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Texas putting cameras on private land to stem border incursions

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Linda Vickers thought the 1,000-acre cattle and horse ranch she operates in rural South Texas was about the most out-of-the-way place in the world, but that was before drug gang members were regularly arrested in her yard.

Texas officials on Thursday announced a plan to place hundreds of small, motion-activated cameras on private property across the border region to help Border Patrol and local law enforcement officers track down the people who have turned Vickers' life upside down.

"I don't leave the house without a cell phone and a pistol," Vickers, whose ranch is southwest of Corpus Christi, 70 miles from the Mexican border and not far from a Border Patrol checkpoint. "This is a threat that we in the United States shouldn't have to live with."

While the murder of Border Patrol agents and the seizure of huge shipments of drugs and weapons draw attention, Texas officials say that the daily battles landowners face against a parade of human smugglers, undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers is a less-told story.

Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said that many of the intruders are affiliated with Mexican drug cartels that are "using terrorist tactics" to dominate Texas border areas so they can move drugs - or smuggled humans - into Texas.

"Our farmers and ranchers are being shot at, they are being intimidated, they are being chased off their own property on an all-too-frequent basis," said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

Vickers and her husband, M.L. Vickers, a large-animal veterinarian, flipped through photographs on Thursday of men bearing the tattoos of the Zetas Mexican drug gang and the Salvadorean criminal gang MS-13 who have been arrested in the front yard of their ranch house. Other photos showed the automatic weapons found stashed in their outbuildings and the 13 bodies that they have discovered on their ranch just this year.

"We pick up mounds of trash, backpacks, diapers, toilet paper," Linda Vickers said. "They break the pipes of stock tanks to get water, and that burns out the motor on our windmill. It happens all the time."

McCraw said drug couriers tell officers that the cartels have threatened to kill their families in Mexico or Central America if they don't get the drug shipments through.

He said the cartels are moving into Texas high schools, using cash to enroll American teenagers in drug gang activities.

The cameras are being placed on ranch land at property owners' request, an extension of a test program in place since January that has resulted in 4,000 arrests and the seizure of more than 10 tons of narcotics, state officials said.

Linda Vickers can't wait to get a camera on her ranch.

"We are being invaded," she said.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Eric Walsh)

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