Published on Saturday, May 20, 2000 in the Independent UK
Mexico Appeals For UN Help In Halting US Ranch Posses Sport Hunting Of Migrants
by Jan McGirk
The Mexican government has appealed to the United Nations to help stop the shootings of migrants by vigilante "posses" – believed to include members of the Ku Klux Klan – in the Wild West country along its border with the United States.

At least two Mexicans have been killed, and seven wounded by gangs patrolling the arid badlands of Arizona's Cochise County to round up migrants searching for more prosperous lives. Some ranchers have declared publicly that they are "hunting" the Mexicans "for sport".

This week, at bilateral talks in Washington, the Mexican Foreign Minister, Rosario Green, described the shootings as "brutal displays of xenophobia". She urged the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, to take whatever steps were necessary to curb the actions of renegade ranchers and their hired hands – armed with night-vision goggles and high-powered rifles.

In addition, an American law firm has been hired by the Mexican authorities. If it can build criminal cases of aggravated assault, illegal detention, and human rights abuse against these vigilantes, lawsuits may follow.

"Let's keep out this refuse from the Narco-State next door," a supporter of the Arizona posses posted on the internet this week.

Irate local ranchers, led by the Barnett Boys of Sierra Vista, insist on searching suspicious vans and pickups on the public highway, despite having no authority to do so.

The ranchers track Mexicans with hounds, demand to see their non-existent identification papers and then radio their whereabouts to the Border Patrol. "Most of these encounters go unreported by the aliens. Some can't be bothered, they don't even know their rights. All they want is to get across," explains Ray Borane, the mayor of Douglas, Arizona.

Considering that there are only 20,000 residents in his entire town, the Arizona border patrol's monthly interception of 22,000 illegal immigrants is striking. The numbers have grown exponentially since border security was bolstered in nearby Nogales, where the road leads straight to urban Tucson. And with California and Texas tightening up, too, there is nowhere else for the migrants to go.

If forced back, most migrants will risk another run, perhaps hiring a guide who promises to avoid all checkpoints. Their new route runs through rattlesnake-ridden scrubland up towards the old Tombstone Territory, tracing the clandestine pathways once used by revolutionaries like Pancho Villa.

Overzealous gringos with itchy trigger fingers are a new hazard in the sagebrush.

The latest shooting victim, Miguel Angel Palafox, 20, told Mexican authorities that two Americans on horseback confronted him while he was walking about three kilometres into United States territory near El Sasabe.

"One of the ranchers fired two shots and he immediately fell to the ground," said Miguel Angel Cortes, the general prosecutor of Sonora, the Mexican state opposite Arizona. "His state of health is grave. The bullet entered the back of his neck and exited somewhere near his ear."

The wounded youth staggered back across the border, and was taken to a hospital in Caborca, Mexico.There was no sign of five others who were with him on his second attempt to cross the frontier.

Flyers circulating in Cochise County, blatantly advertise for tourists to join in the hunt. "It is demeaning to treat this as recreation," Mayor Borane fumes. "We don't want to be fillin' up with militia types."

It may already be too late. Defiant Arizona ranchers invited members of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform to a rally last Saturday. Ignacio Ibarra, a local reporter, spotted several Ku Klux Klan members milling in the audience of over 250 people that gathered in Sierra Vista, next to Roger Barnett's 22,000-acre cattle ranch.

"When my brother bought his ranch five years ago, it was pristine," Don Barnett said wistfully. "You could ride a horse along a mountain crest, or pick up arrowheads. Now it's a garbage pit. There's plastic, tin cans, and shit everywhere you look. Old blankets, cut hoses, cut fences. You name it, illegals'll do it."

Barbara Coe, an anti-immigration lobbyist from California, blamed government apathy for forcing the Barnett brothers to "defend our borders and defend themselves from the illegal alien savages."

But neighbour Ed Wagner, boycotted the rally. "As a Hispanic and resident of Cochise County, I believe that the importation of racists from other parts of the country to deal with our national problem is only adding to a problem that is reaching a boiling point."

2000 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.