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Los Angeles Times | Suit Targets U.S. Border Vigilantes

HOUSTON — Two civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against vigilantes who intercept and detain immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages on behalf of six undocumented immigrants who crossed the border in March and were apprehended by one of the vigilante organizations on a private cattle ranch in southwest Texas, eight miles outside Hebbronville. The immigrants were robbed and assaulted before they were turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol, the lawsuit charges.

The vigilante organization, called Ranch Rescue, and Joseph Sutton, the owner of the 5,000-acre ranch where the immigrants were detained, denied any wrongdoing Thursday and said they treated the immigrants with "respect and dignity." Sutton, in a telephone interview from Sutton Ranch, declared the lawsuit "bellywash."

The immigrants were unlawfully detained at gunpoint and by a 125-pound Rottweiler, the lawsuit says. One of the immigrants, a man from El Salvador, alleges that he was pistol-whipped as one of the vigilantes ordered him to kneel with his fingers folded behind his head. Several others say their lives were threatened by men carrying assault rifles, wearing khaki uniforms and declaring themselves soldiers of the United States, according to the lawsuit.

"The bottom line of our suit is to protect the most vulnerable and worthy of people -- impoverished migrants traveling hundreds of miles on foot across harsh terrain to feed their families," said Ricardo de Anda, a private attorney who will be the lead trial counsel if the case reaches the courtroom.

The suit is the first to take on paramilitary groups that police the border on their own.

Ricardo de Anda