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He bought the land he illegally crossed into. Now, he's helping other immigrants do the same.

Ociel Mendoza illegally immigrated to the United States in 1979, crossing over a plot of land he now owns. He presently uses his property to help others like him.

He bought the land he illegally crossed into. Now, he's helping other immigrants do the same.
Image Source: Twitter/ JinATX

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 8, 2021. It has since been updated.

At just 18 years old, Ociel Mendoza crossed into the United States illegally from Mexico with a group of friends. He traveled across a 400-acre ranch in Texas searching for seasonal work as an undocumented immigrant. Now, four decades after he first arrived, he has successfully purchased the land he crossed over. Much to the dissatisfaction of US border officials, he currently makes it easier for others like him, those seeking a better life, to make the same journey he did 40 years ago. Unfortunately, the land is currently under dispute: the federal government won possession of the land in December 2020 but is yet to build fencing owing to unresolved just compensation, BuzzFeed News reports.


Mendoza crossed over to the US in 1979 when the border looked very different—it was not as militarized as it is today. He made his way north with a group of friends. "How much could it cost?" He joked at the time. "One day I’ll buy it." He went on to work in construction for seven years and then opened a convenience store and laundromat. Soon enough, as his business grew, he was able to expand. The business owner purchased rental properties, a used car lot, and eventually ranches in the border town. One of those ranches ended up being the land he crossed over in 1979. He had forgotten about it until a friend reminded him of it in 2009.


When he gained possession of the land, he put up hundreds of feet of fencing with 300 white metal ladders placed in between every 150 feet. The ladders help immigrants crossing over the border, much as he did so many years ago. Of course, border patrol quickly took notice and asked him why he was making it easier for illegal immigrants to enter the country. To this, Mendoza responded, "You’re the ones who can stop them, not me." Therefore, since September 2020, the federal government has been trying to win possession of the ranch. And last December, they did. However, the case remains open as Mendoza is yet to receive just compensation. The Justice Department offered Mendoza $136,000 for two plots of his land, but he has asked for $200,000.


As a result, the federal government has shelled out thousands of dollars (it awarded a $33 million contract to Southwest Valley Constructors to build a border wall before the land was acquired) but cannot yet build on the plots of land. Mendoza had hoped that Joe Biden's presidency would stop efforts trying to build the wall. While the President stopped all border wall construction in order to conduct a 60-day review of the project when he first entered office, the review is still ongoing four months later. Sadly, Mendoza is aware that border agents will build the wall if they wish to. "Morally, I don’t agree with the wall, but there’s not much I can do about it," he shared. "But give me what it’s worth."


Over the years, Mendoza has "helped" numerous people cross over the border. For instance, he once came across two young men who had crossed the border with a group of immigrants. They asked him to ask his boss, the owner of the land, how much it would cost to smuggle people across the property. They did not recognize that he, in fact, owned the ranch. He recalled telling them, "My boss says to tell your boss not to worry. They can cross whomever they want. Just take care of the fence." The business owner considers himself rich; he has come a long way from the small house he grew up in. Most importantly, however, Mendoza wishes to be a man of importance. "I want people to know that a wetback became who I am today," he said. "It’s important to have money, but you truly feel rich when you're someone important."


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