BA CBP Border Patrol agent monitors the Canada–United States border near Sweet Grass, Montana. Photo: Gerald L. Nino/U.S. Customs and Border Protection/U.S. Department of Homeland Security

A South Texas cattle rancher and semi-retired lawyer is taking on federal and state immigration law enforcement officials, claiming they illegally trespassed onto his property and secretly installed a surveillance camera as part of their efforts to snag illegal border-crossers.

Ricardo Palacios, who has been a member of the Texas bar for nearly five decades and worked with clients in the gas and oil business, now devotes his efforts to running his ranch in Encinal, in La Salle County.

Palacios said he was driving around his 1,000-acre ranch in November when he noticed a camera strapped to a mesquite tree.

“I said what the hell, what’s that doing there,” Palacios said. “I took out a machete and took it down.”

It turned out that the camera was placed there by the Texas Rangers, an arm of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection as part of “Operation Drawbridge,” which monitors the border between Texas and Mexico.

Palacios, who said he’s had had past run-ins with law enforcement entering his property without his permission, said he never authorized border patrol officials to install any surveillance cameras. So, after taking it down, he kept it.

Palacios, a 1970 graduate of St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, said he then began getting calls from the Rangers and CBP—presumably because the camera stopped broadcasting—demanding the return of the camera, an off-the-shelf item that retails for about $300.

“I said, ‘No. I’m not going to give it to you,’” he said

On its website, the state DPS says it uses the cameras to monitor the border with CBP because there are not enough funds to pay for sufficient personnel to personally watch the 1,200-mile border.

Despite facing possible charges of theft of government property, Palacios refused to return the camera, saying he was going to keep it since he was filing a lawsuit demanding that law enforcement obtain his authority before entering his property. Despite threats of arrest, he has refused to return the camera, he said.

Under federal law, border patrol agents have the right to enter onto private property without permission within 25 miles of any border, excluding private residences. However, Palacios’ cattle ranch is 35 miles north of the border.

“They need to get my permission before they go on my property,” said Palacios, who inherited the ranch in 1995.

He then filed his federal lawsuit against the border patrol and the Rangers. He said the camera, now in the possession of his attorneys, should not be returned until he is paid $500,000 in compensatory damages and is given a promise that border patrol officials will not encroach on his property without first seeking his permission.

Palacios is represented by Laredo solos David Almaraz and Raul Casso. The matter currently is before U.S. Magistrate Judge Guillermo Garcia of the Southern District of Texas, sitting in Laredo. No hearings have been scheduled.

“Defendants installed the camera on plaintiff’s property under no circumstances, exigent or otherwise, that would allow defendants to intrude on plaintiff’s property,” Amaraz and Casso wrote in a court filing.

They are asking Garcia to keep the surveillance camera in his possession pending the outcome of Palacios’ lawsuit.

“He’s not going to give the camera back at this point,” Casso said. “If the ranch was within 25 miles of the border, we wouldn’t have a case. But the ranch is at the 35-mile marker on Interstate 35.”

“We have yet to hear from the government,” Almaraz added.

A spokesman for CBP said the agency would not comment on pending litigation. Officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety also declined to comment.

Palacios said he has not discovered any other cameras on his property.

“There may be other cameras or sensors there. I don’t know,” he said.