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Agriculture Today

Landowners beware: Criminals can sue you

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May 24, 2011 | 3,262 views | Post a comment

By Matt Felder

Nowhere is the rich diversity of Texas agriculture more pronounced than in the Rio Grande Valley. Name it and it’s probably grown in Deep South Texas.

In February, I had an eye-opening experience when I traveled to the border, stood on the banks of the Rio Grande River, and talked to landowners about the escalating violence from the drug cartels and human smugglers just a short swim away.

Here in the Valley -- like many Texas farms and ranches -- the family history on the same plot of land can date back generations. That legacy is threatened by the constant harassment and threats these producers face day in and day out. Some have already called it quits. More on what I found on this trip can be found in my story, “Collateral Damage.”

It’s unfortunate what is happening in South Texas. Personally, I can’t begin to comprehend the challenges they face each day -- even after standing face to face with them and listening to their accounts.

What is really mind-boggling is what I heard in Falfurrias, about 80 miles due north of the border. This area has become known as the “walk around” to the locals. Landowners here have to deal with trespassing, drug running, and other illegal activities on a daily basis.

There I met Susan Durham, executive director of the South Texans’ Property Rights Association. She told me of an incident where a local landowner was being sued by coyotes (human traffickers) who had rolled a truck after hitting a cattle guard, killing three illegal immigrants. From what I hear, that’s not an isolated incident.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing the first time, either. To me, it’s an insane revelation. The sad part is, it’s happening. Texas farmers and ranchers have enough to worry about. They shouldn’t be subjected to frivolous lawsuits, especially in regard to people who choose to endanger lives to be in this country illegally.

There is legislation under consideration in Austin that deals with landowner liability in these cases. Hopefully, it’s on the right path to help landowners stay out of hot water when it comes to trespassers.

After all, trespassers shouldn’t be there in the first place -- especially if they crossed the border illegally.

Matt Felder is field editor for the Texas Farm Bureau.

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