Encinal, Texas – A landowner has filed a lawsuit after he discovered that Border Patrol agents had illegally placed a camera on his property that gave them access to 24/7 surveillance of his land, and they then threatened to arrest him if he did not comply.
Ricardo Palacios, 74, told Ars Technica that he was walking around his property when he noticed a small camera in green plastic attached to a mesquite tree, about eight feet from the ground. In addition to being located near his son’s house, Palacios said the camera had a transmitting signal.
Given the fact that Palacios did not know where the camera came from, he took it down as soon as he saw it. He said that he then began to receive calls from both Customs and Border Protection officials and the Texas Rangers, demanding that he return the camera.
Now, the fact that the agents knew right away that the camera had been moved and was inside Palacios’ residence serves as a reminder that the agencies were actively monitoring the camera and its location.
While the ongoing intimidation and threats of arrests from Border Patrol and the Texas Rangers may have caused some landowners to turn over the mysterious camera without asking questions, Palacios refused to comply with their orders. Instead, he filed a lawsuit against both agencies.
"My client is 74 years old, he's a lawyer, been practicing for almost 50 years, he has no criminal history whatsoever, law-abiding citizen, respected lawyer and senior citizen. To have put him in jail would have been—forget the indecency of it—what a way to end a career," Attorney Raul Casso told Ars Technica.
The land owned by Palacios is 35 miles from the nearest U.S. borderline, and in his civil complaint, he alleged that he has been having problems with CBP trespassing on his land ever since their agents interrogated and physically assaulted his son in April 2010.
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“Over the last several years, after an ugly, physical confrontation that Plaintiff, Ricardo D. Palacios’ son, had with CBP agents at the IH-35 Checkpoint 29 miles north of Laredo, Plaintiffs’ have encountered agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) going onto their land, at will, without any warrant or legal authority, without landowner consent, over landowners’ objection, and without any warrant or exigent circumstances that would permit such intrusions upon Plaintiffs’ private property. On each such occasion, Plaintiffs confronted the CBP agents they encountered and warned them that they, the agents, were trespassing onto private property.”
The lawsuit claimed that when Palacios and his sons ordered CBP agents off of their land, the agents often responded by claiming that they were within “25 miles” of the border, which would give them jurisdiction. Even when Palacios’ son filed an official complaint with Border Patrol, they claimed that “No results were forthcoming, none were ever had, and the trespassing continued.”
According to federal law, “within a distance of 25 miles from any such external boundary to have access to private lands, but not dwellings, for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States.”
However, Palacios has maintained that his ranch is 35 miles from the border. He claimed that the discovery of the camera was the “final straw,” and that when he was contacted by the Texas Rangers, they threatened “to file criminal charges for theft upon [his] persistent refusal to surrender the camera.”
"Our lawsuit is that we want a federal judge to tell the border patrol and the feds to not go on [Palacios'] property without permission or probable cause," Attorney David Almaraz told Ars Technica. "And if you all are going to keep doing that, you're going to have to pay for it. It's called the right to be left alone. That's what the Fourth Amendment is all about."
Palacios is accusing the cameras of being a part of “Operation Drawbridge,” an initiative from the Texas Department of Public Safety that uses "low-cost, commercially off-the-shelf technology that has been adapted to meet law enforcement needs” to conduct surveillance along the border.
“The use of detection technologies such as video, cameras, and sensors, can provide real-time information on exact locations of smuggling events. Unfortunately, there are insufficient personnel resources to adequately cover the entire border region, therefore the effective use of detection technologies is a vital component in a multi-dimensional strategy.
The Texas Border Sheriffs have demonstrated that live video coverage in remote areas along the border can support interdiction operations. However, the Cartels quickly adjust and simply relocate their operations elsewhere. This is good for the Texas landowners in those areas but the Cartels are highly adaptive and they quickly exploit other areas along the border.”
The case will be presided by US Magistrate Judge Guillermo R. Garcia. It has the opportunity to set a powerful precedent, if Ricardo Palacios’ Fourth Amendment rights are upheld, even in the face of the Customs and Border Protection’s argument that they must trespass on his property in order to ensure border security.