TUCSON—Arizona State Land Department officials have renewed a grazing lease for a rancher who has become known for detaining illegal immigrants but warned that any violation would terminate it.
The department acted despite requests from the Border Action Network and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund not to renew Roger Barnett’s lease for 10 more years because of allegations that he’s engaged in vigilante actions on land east of Douglas near the Mexican border.
Barnett is the target of three pending lawsuits—including one filed by Mexican-American citizens from Douglas who say he threatened them and their children with a weapon as they crossed his state lands to hunt on it with state-issued permits.
Barnett, who bought his ranch in 1995, said he began patrolling the land a few years later when illegal immigrants started flooding through southeastern Arizona.
For the past several years, Arizona has been the busiest point on the Mexican border for undocumented migrants entering the country.
“I had to do it, because they tear up fences, tear up water lines,” he said.
The Border Action Network, a local human rights advocacy organization, contended in its June request that Barnett had violated an article in the lease as well as five Arizona statutes.
“We’re tremendously disappointed and somewhat surprised that the state would be willing to violate the terms of the lease,” said network Director Jennifer Allen.
“The lease says that the lessee is authorized to do things which don’t result in a breach of the peace,” but Barnett allegedly “has threatened people,” she said.
“We have a series of allegations . . . plus his own statement that he has arrested thousands of individuals,” added attorney Jesus Romo, who represents the network.
Signs posted on the property, saying things like “the undocumented are destroying our country,” are “either racist or political in nature and not allowed under state guidelines,” Romo said.