Sunday, July 01, 2007

Rancher fighting illegal immigration says fence not the answer

Rancher fighting illegal immigration says fence not the answer
Leader of volunteer patrol group wants more money for local and state law enforcement.

By Juan Castillo
Saturday, June 30, 2007

BROOKS COUNTY — Though he is not in law enforcement, Mike Vickers is a witness to the gruesome, tragic consequences of illegal immigration. He sees them in his "backyard" amid the vast, rugged ranches of South Texas.

Large processions of illegal immigrants and human and drug smugglers, sometimes in groups of 30 or more, regularly cut through his cattle ranch south of Falfurrias to skirt a Border Patrol checkpoint. The checkpoint off U.S. 281 is about four miles south of Vickers' home and 1,000-acre ranch, and about 70 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Many of the trespassers don't make it out alive.

Vickers, gleaning from figures compiled in Brooks and nearby counties, estimates that close to 200 people have died on private ranches during the past two years. He and his neighbors routinely find the cadavers, skulls and body parts.

The victims — many are unidentified — probably died of exposure.

Vickers thinks some might have been abandoned or murdered by smugglers; the bodies are too decayed to tell for sure.

With his bushy mustache and cowboy hat and boots, Vickers is a stern-faced fixture at public forums on illegal immigration.

He testified forcefully at the Legislature this year, advocating for state money for local and state law enforcement officers who have been drawn into the illegal immigration fight.

Though Vickers has become one of the public faces of frustration with illegal immigration, he thinks a border fence is not the answer.

"I think it's a waste of money," Vickers said.

The former head of the the Texas Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Vickers now leads the Texas Border Volunteers, a group including fellow ranchers who own 1.5 million acres in 11 South Texas counties.

Usually once a month, armed and equipped with night vision and other equipment, the volunteers patrol around the clock for days at a time, reporting trespassers to the Border Patrol.

Vickers also owns about 160 acres of farmland off the Rio Grande, south of Pharr. He doesn't want a fence cutting off access to irrigation water.

A solution, he says, lies in more officers, more money and resources for local and state law enforcement, and a guest worker program. "There's no law and order out here," Vickers said.; 445-3635

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