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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview of Jack Foote, Ranch Rescue

Aired February 25, 2002 - 09:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The "Big Question" this hour: Why are U.S. ranchers taking the law into their own hands? Well, the ranchers say the U.S. border patrol isn't doing enough to keep potential terrorists from entering the country. They call their group Ranch Rescue, and the group is recruiting volunteers for private patrols to keep illegal immigrants out. Critics say the ranchers are nothing more than vigilantes. Right now, they are attracting a lot of attention as they organize for their next so-called "mission" along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Joining us now from Abilene, Texas, is Jack Foote, national spokesman for Ranch Rescue. Thank you very much for being with us this morning, Jack.

JACK FOOTE, SPOKESMAN, RANCH RESCUE: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your audience, ma'am. I just pray that my stuttering problem doesn't make me hard to understand.

ZAHN: It will not. Let's talk a little bit about your mission. On your web site, it states that you are an organization made up of volunteers who believe that when -- quote -- "government fails or refuses to act, individual citizens are obligated to act on their own... to preserve and protect the... property rights of... citizens."

How do you plan to achieve that goal?

FOOTE: Well, ma'am, basically, what Ranch Rescue does is three things. We organize volunteers from all across the nation, we reach agreements with the landowners in the border counties, and we assemble the volunteers on the landowners' property in order to conduct -- repair private property, and by our physical presence, we serve as a deterrent to criminals trespassing and committing other crimes on that private property.

ZAHN: What kind of reaction have you gotten locally to this plan?

FOOTE: Everyone that has had direct contact with our volunteers has had only good things to say about us. We've worked with landowners in Texas, we've worked with landowners in Cochise County, Arizona, and we've had a very positive response. These folks are very happy to have our help.

ZAHN: Then, of course, you have to acknowledge, there are some critics who feel that your volunteers are nothing more than vigilantes, and you are going to stir up an awful lot of trouble. What do you say to those critics?

FOOTE: First of all, I haven't had anyone say that to my face, or even over a telephone. No one has ever actually come straight out and accepted my challenge to publicly debate on the issue of private property rights. They've remained awfully silent to that challenge, so I can't really address a spin on what we do, without someone being willing to face me in public and answer to what they're saying.

ZAHN: But you know doubt know there are people, while not talking to you directly, certainly have said this, and voiced their concern about what these volunteers might end up doing. Do you acknowledge there is any risk in what you are trying to achieve?

FOOTE: The greatest risk from our being out there are cuts and scrapes from handling barbed wire and the occasional insect bite. That's the greatest risk to our volunteers. As far as what these folks who don't want us to be there have to say, all they need to do is come out and visit with us while we're out on private property, of course, I would ask them to get permission from the property private owner first, but they're more than welcome to come out and see what we do.

ZAHN: What has happened to you and your volunteers in the past when you have discovered an illegal immigrant on someone's ranch, on private property?

FOOTE: Well, first of all, ma'am, there's no way for us to know if someone is or is not in the country legally. The Border Patrol and the INS have both declared that only they can determine another person's criminal or noncriminal status, and their immigration status. We only know if they're on the property with the permission of the landowner or not. As to what happens, it can vary. We've never had anything remotely resembling a confrontation. More than anything, when our volunteers see the sheer numbers of the criminals that are trespassing and committing other crimes, it's astonishment. So, I guess, surprise.

ZAHN: Yeah, Jack, in the time you've been doing this, how many of those people you have found on ranches ended up being illegal immigrants and having been involved in some type of crime?

FOOTE: We have no way of knowing, ma'am. All we do is we report what we see to the landowner, and as his invited guests, we will leave it up to him, it's his property, as to what he wants to do about it.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And as you try to get this latest recruitment together, how many volunteers do you expect will be involved?

FOOTE: Well, hopefully a few more, now that we've had an opportunity to speak to your audience, ma'am. There's anywhere from 20 to 50 at both of the previous efforts that we had on the border. We are hoping to get 100 for our next two efforts each. ZAHN: Well, we would love to take you up on your offer for us to join you on one of these patrols. We will get a crew down your way. Jack Foote, thank you very much for joining us this morning. Appreciate your time.

FOOTE: Thank you for the opportunity to speak, ma'am.

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