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A Heroic Lawsuit Against the Border Patrol in My Hometown

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A controversy near my hometown of Laredo, Texas, provides a real-life example of the violations of liberty and privacy that come with immigration controls. The issue is especially relevant to the libertarian movement given that some conservative-oriented libertarians continue trying to persuade libertarians to abandon their position in favor of open borders and instead join up with conservatives and progressives by embracing their system of immigration controls.

According to an article at CourthouseNews.com, a South Texas rancher named Richard Palacios has just filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection in U.S. District Court in Laredo. The lawsuit alleges that the Border Patrol repeatedly trespassed onto his ranch without a warrant and over Palacios’ repeated objections.

The matter finally came to a head when Palacios discovered a camera that the Border Patrol had installed on his ranch, without his knowledge or consent, to assist them in catching illegal immigrants heading north. Palacios seized the camera and refused demands by the Border Patrol to return it. When the Border Patrol threatened to criminally charge Palacios with theft, he filed his lawsuit.

Palacios’s ranch is located 27 miles north of Laredo, near a small town named Encinal. Palacios lives on the ranch. This is where his home is. Also living on the ranch is his son Richard Jr., who has a separate house on the ranch.

The Palacios family’s dispute with the Border Patrol actually goes back much further. At about 1 a.m. back in 2010, Richard Jr. was traveling north out of Laredo on IH35 on his way home. Forced to stop at the Border Patrol’s highway checkpoint, which is located about 29 miles north of Laredo, Richard Jr. refused to answer questions posed to him by U.S. immigration agents. According to the article, about 10 agents pulled him “out of his vehicle, body slammed him, handcuffed him and threw him in a holding cell after he refused to tell them where he lived.” They then held him in custody for 90 minutes before finally releasing him to return home to his ranch.

At 3 a.m. that same night, in a show of force, a team of Border Patrol agents entered onto the Palacios ranch near the front gate of the ranch. Palacios ordered them off his property. One of the armed agents responded, “Make us leave.”

There is something important to keep in mind in all this: These agents are enforcing immigration controls. With immigration controls comes enforcement, which necessarily entails the initiation of force against others, which is a grave violation of what is known as the libertarian non-aggression principle.

Unfortunately, this is what those conservative-oriented libertarians who have not been able to let go of their conservative proclivities on immigration just don’t seem to get: If libertarians were to abandon their position favoring open borders and embrace the conservative-leftist position favoring immigration controls, libertarians would, at the same time, be adopting and embracing ongoing violations of their core principle — the non-aggression principle, which holds that it is illegitimate for anyone, including government officials, to initiate force against others.

I grew up on farm just outside Laredo. Our farm was situated adjacent to the Rio Grande. We irrigated our farm with water we pumped out of the Rio Grande. Our farm was literally on the U.S.-Mexico border. When we drove down to the river, we could see Mexicans on the other side of the river.

To “protect the border” the Border Patrol was legally authorized to come onto our farm whenever they wanted and without a search warrant. Our objections were irrelevant. In essence, they acted like co-owners of our property. If we put a lock on our front gate and failed to give them a key, they would shoot off the lock and come onto our property anyway. When they found that our workers were illegal immigrants, they would arrest them and deport them.

But notice something important: Palacios’ ranch is not on the Rio Grande. It is located 27 miles north of the Rio Grande. So, how come the Border Patrol is doing the same sort of thing to him that it did to us?

The reason is that the Border Patrol treats all land that is situated within 25 miles of the border as the “functional equivalent of the border.” In other words, the “border” isn’t really the Rio Grande but instead a line that is 25 miles wide. Every property within that 25-mile-wide border strip falls within the jurisdiction of the Border Patrol.

When a person crosses the international bridge from Nuevo Laredo into downtown Laredo, he expects to encounter immigration officials. They are on the border. They are checking people’s citizenship. They are enforcing immigration controls.

But they do the exact same thing at that highway checkpoint 29 miles north of Laredo, where they body slammed Richard Jr. for refusing to answer their questions. That’s because they feel that the checkpoint is really the same thing as the border itself even though the Rio Grande is 29 miles south of the checkpoint. Thus, American citizens who never enter Mexico and who are simply traveling from Laredo north are required to stop at what amounts to a border checkpoint that is located 29 miles north of the border and answer ridiculous questions regarding citizenship. This means, needless to say, that dark-skinned Laredoans are required to carry their passports when traveling to other parts of Texas.

Raul Casso, one of Palacios’s attorneys, put it well: “Private property is one of our fundamental rights in this country and I think personal freedom really arises from private property.”

All of these decades-long immigration-enforcement measures are obvious failures. They are also the face of tyranny. Libertarians should continue rejecting the arguments of those conservative-oriented libertarians who want us to join up with conservatives and progressives on the issue of immigration. Libertarians should continue standing on principle in favor of open borders, the only system that works and the only system that is consistent with private property, individual freedom, free markets, morality, and limited government.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.