The ongoing battle to secure the U.S. border with Mexico can lead to tensions between ranchers and federal officers. Such is the case with Ricardo Palacios, a 74-year-old who ranches near Encinal, north of Laredo, Tex. He has filed suit against the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and a Texas Ranger.
Palacios’ dispute with the Border Patrol centers around a surveillance camera he found attached to a mesquite tree on his ranch, which he promptly removed. Palacios began receiving calls from both the CBP and the Texas Rangers, who both claimed the camera and wanted it back. When Palacios refused, he was threatened with arrest.
The camera appears to be part of Operation Drawbridge, a multi-million dollar project of the Texas Department of Public Safety that began in 2012 to build a “virtual wall” along the border. DPS says the agency has purchased 4,359 cameras – similar to wildlife cameras – and installed them across south Texas.
But tensions between Palacios and the feds dates back to 2010, when one of his sons was “body-slammed” by agents at an immigration checkpoint. Several hours later, a standoff developed between the agents and Palacios and his sons – who also live on the ranch – at the ranch gates. That confrontation ended without incident, but Palacios claims he often finds CBP agents on his property.
Palacios filed the lawsuit because he believes CBP agents and the Texas Rangers cooperated to place the camera on his property, “in violation of (his) property and constitutional rights.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the authority to patrol private property within 25 miles of the U.S. border without a warrant, but Palacios’ says his property is outside the 25-mile zone.
Palacios has asked a federal judge in Laredo to declare his property outside the 25-mile zone, and he’s asking for $500,000 in damages for mental and emotional distress and for unspecified punitive damages.
Palacios’ attorney, Raul Casso, told the San Antonio Express News, “The government is peeking around where it’s not supposed to without any judicial oversight.
“It’s not us against the good guys,” Casso said. “We’re on the side of the law. We’re enforcing the Constitution and the laws that emanate from it. The government and its agencies need to respect private property and the individuals whose property it is.”
Lawyers for the CBP argue the courts haven’t defined “patrolling,” and it’s not clear if the law allows CBP agents to place sensors or cameras on private land.
Palacios’ lawyers say the closest the border (in this case the Rio Grande River) comes to his ranch is more than 27 miles from his property line.
Legal experts say the suit may set precedence regarding the actions of Border Patrol and the CBP, who some argue are trespassing on private property and exceeding their legal authority