Arizona rancher faces $32 million lawsuit

Feb 13, 2009
by WLJ

In a case that could set a dangerous precedent for ranchers along the U.S./ Mexico border, Arizona rancher Roger Barnett was in court last week to fight a lawsuit filed by 16 illegal immigrants he apprehended on his 22,000-acre ranch, the Washington Times reported.

The group, represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which claims Barnett violated their civil rights, is seeking $32 million in the lawsuit.

Barnett, who ranches near Douglas, AZ, claims he has been forced to defend his family and ranch since the U.S. Border Patrol has shifted its enforcement activities to towns along the border.

The result has been a change in illegal immigration patterns. That change has made his ranch a favorite crossing for those crossing the border illegally and resulted in substantial problems, including piles of trash, property damage, and killed cattle on his ranch. Since 1998, Barnett claims he has captured 12,000 illegal immigrants and turned them over to Border Patrol agents.

The illegal immigrants who filed the suit claim Barnett held the group captive at gunpoint, threatening to turn his dog loose on them and saying he would shoot anyone who tried to escape after he found them in a dry wash on his ranch in March 2004. Barnett sought to have the lawsuit dismissed in March 2008, a claim that was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, who ruled there was enough evidence to allow the matter to be presented to a jury. However, according to the Washington Times, Barnett’s attorney, David Hardy, had argued that illegal immigrants did not have the same rights as U.S. citizens.

During an interview in 2002, Barnett said he began rounding up illegal immigrants after they started to vandalize his property. He said the immigrants tore up water pumps, killed calves, destroyed fences and gates, stole trucks and broke into his home. Some of his cattle died from ingesting the plastic bottles left behind by the immigrants, he said, adding that he installed a faucet on an 8,000-gallon water tank so the immigrants would stop damaging the tank to get water.

“This is my land. I’m the victim here,” Barnett said. “When someone’s home and loved ones are in jeopardy and the government seemingly can’t do anything about it, I feel justified in taking matters into my own hands. And I always watch my back.” — WLJ