- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

An activist organization in Reynosa, Mexico, that offered a $10,000 bounty on U.S. Border Patrol agents has withdrawn the offer in the wake of investigations by law enforcement authorities on both sides of the border.

Carlos Ibarra Perez, spokesman for a 5,000-member group known as the Citizen Defense Committee, said yesterday the organization had changed its mind deciding it did not want an escalation of violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I'm saying a different thing now," Mr. Ibarra Perez told radio station KFMB in San Diego. "I'm saying that we avoid violence. I'm saying we're not supporting this situation of sending people to kill people. I'm saying we leave the leaders of the countries to fix this."

On Monday, Mr. Ibarra Perez proposed the bounty in an interview with a Texas newspaper, saying the organization was angry over the detainment of illegal immigrants by Arizona ranchers and the killing of a Mexican immigrant near Brownsville, Texas. He said the bounty was necessary to overcome threats by the ranchers to kill Mexican citizens crossing into the United States.

His comments drew the immediate attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which began an investigation, and the Mexican Embassy in Washington, which condemned the bounty.

Jose Zabalgoitia, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy, said the matter had been referred to the Mexican Attorney General's Office, which began an investigation.

"This is clearly intolerable behavior, something the Embassy of Mexico strongly condemns," Mr. Zabalgoitia said.

Gustavo de la Vina, head of the U.S. Border Patrol, said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization service, which oversees the Border Patrol, "takes any such threats seriously."

"Officer safety is our primary concern. Agents have been advised to be constantly aware of their surroundings and exercise extreme caution," he said, adding that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, which coordinates border issues for the Justice Department, has been notified "and is investigating" the bounty call.

The bounty was proposed in the wake two weeks ago of the killing of a Mexican immigrant near Brownsville, Texas, who waded across the Rio Grande and was shot to death in a struggle with a Border Patrol agent. The man had set off a motion sensor after crossing the border with three other illegal immigrants, and wrestled with an agent after crawling out of the brush.

During the struggle, the immigrant snatched the agent's baton. The agent drew his handgun and fired two rounds.

The U.S.-Mexican border has become inflamed with emotion over the past several months. Armed Arizona ranchers, who say immigrants have caused thousands of dollars in property damage crossing into this country, have began rounding up as many as 80 illegal immigrants a night.

The ranchers have said they met with politicians, testified to subcommittees and wrote countless letters about the problem, but have seen little or no effort to address their concerns.

Last month, the Arizona Republic said the ranchers blamed the Border Patrol for forcing the northward tide of illegal immigrants into a bottleneck at Douglas, Ariz., through heightened border enforcement in El Paso and San Diego. In the Douglas area, Border Patrol agents detain 25,800 illegal immigrants a month.

The U.S. and Mexican investigations into the bounty offer are continuing. In Mexico, Juan Ramon Perez, spokesman for the attorney general, said Mr. Ibarra Perez would have to "submit an official written statement" before the retraction could even be considered.

In McAllen, Texas, FBI spokesman John DeLeon said it did not matter if Mr. Ibarra Perez changed his mind.

"The most important thing from our perspective is that comments that he did make were taken seriously by both the Border Patrol and the FBI," Mr. DeLeon said. "Even if he retracts from what he's already stated, from the perspective of FBI we will still pursue what we need to do to thoroughly explore the potential for a full-blown investigation."

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