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Border towns under strain well before Haitians descended on Del Rio

Amid deepening crisis, Texas governor, law enforcement signal strength with border visit.

Updated: September 21, 2021 - 10:53pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

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As nearly 15,000 people, mostly Haitians, illegally congregate under the Del Rio-Ciudad Acuna International Bridge, in Del Rio, Texas, local officials say this has only brought light to a problem they've been struggling with since February. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott came to Del Rio to address the state's approach to securing the border. Clad in a khaki shirt displaying the Texas Department of Public Safety insignia, Abbott was flanked by local law enforcement, state troopers, Texas National Guardsmen and women and Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano.

Texas law enforcement deploying to the region was a show of strength intended for people coming to Texas illegally, Abbott said.

"We are arresting and jailing anybody who comes across the border illegally and trespasses on private property or on public land," he warned. "And so it's not Biden catch and release policy. It's the arrest and jail policy sending a message to these folks and to anybody else thinking about coming here that you may wind up with handcuffs on your hands and be put in jail instead of being released into the general population."

Abbott's announcement came after he signed a bill last week passed by the state legislature allocating another $1.8 billion to border security in the state, in an effort to help counties struggling since February with strained budgets and resources under a surge of illegal immigrants lured by the Biden administration's relaxation of security controls at the southern border.

In the small border town of Del Rio, all hotels are full, and hundreds of state troopers are now staying at the Del Rio Civic Center. In neighboring Brackettville, where the U.S. Army Cavalry once filled barracks, state troopers have taken all available rooms at historic Fort Clark Springs. State troopers' SUVs now line the streets and square where horses once held formation over 100 years ago, representing a new cavalry that's come to town.

Noticeably absent in the region is FEMA, U.S. military or federal agents dealing with a humanitarian crisis that has developed under the bridge. With no access to bathing other than the river, limited access to bathroom facilities, bottled water and three meals a day delivered by local eateries, those under the bridge are sleeping on the ground in makeshift tents built from cane, sticks and leaves. Reports of women being raped occur on a daily basis. The local ambulance is on a regular run from the area to the local medical facility, bringing people on stretchers and pregnant women giving birth.

Illegal immigration has put a strain on the small border town of roughly 30,000 residents since February, when the Biden administration's laissez-faire approach to border security began. But the recent surge on the town prompted the Democratic mayor to issue a disaster declaration and state of emergency requesting help from the state and the federal government on Friday.

While Vice President Kamala Harris, who was tasked with overseeing the border crisis and who has yet to come to Del Rio, attended a Howard University football game on Saturday, Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano tweeted: "The VP is able to visit the fun events across the country, while American communities continue to grapple with failed immigration reform. Where is the visit to Del Rio, TX?"

One day later, Lozano was given a briefing by the Department of Homeland Security. "I was given an opportunity to update Secretary Mayorkas this morning on the dire situation at the border," he said. "I'm grateful to receive an immediate plan of action. Working alongside US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz has been instrumental in reducing the migrant population." 

Meanwhile, the much smaller neighboring town of Brackettville has been inundated with crime since February. 

"The 'recent crisis' at the Del Rio international bridge is nothing new," Kinney County Attorney Brent Smith told Just The News. "The thousands of Haitians that have illegally entered the U.S. near the city of Del Rio is, in reality, a daily occurrence on the ranches along the border. The media have swarmed to this one group of illegal aliens only because their presence and congregation is visible to the public eye and on display for the world to see, but the facts on the ground tell a different story."

Smith was the first to issue a disaster declaration April 21 asking the state for aid, after which dozens of other counties followed suit. Their resources were strained, and budgets were tapped within months. The Texas Legislature finally provided some financial relief by allocating additional funds to help sheriffs' offices five months later, but the border has not been made appreciably more secure. Crime, break-ins, theft, high-speed car chases, human and drug smuggling have only gotten worse. Even if every culprit were arrested, there aren't enough jails or facilities to hold them.

Every day, thousands of people cross through Kinney County, a 16-mile-long county along the border 30 miles east of Del Rio. Residents capture people walking through their property on range cameras and drones, and call law enforcement who are often unable to get there in time to apprehend those committing crimes and trespassing. The migrants traveling across people's property break into their homes, steal their food, guns, clothes, or cars and trucks. They cut their fences, let out their livestock, and damage their water troughs and critical water infrastructure, jeopardizing the lives of residents and their animals on which they depend for their livelihoods. 

So far, 700 individuals have been arrested and jailed by law enforcement in Kinney County alone, which Smith says barely scratches the surface of the total number that has descended on the county. Sheriff Brad Coe estimates that his deputies are stopping less than 5% of those coming through the county. 

"This low percentage of apprehensions is a direct result of not having boots on the ground near the river," Smith said. 

To put the number of people being apprehended in perspective, Kinney County doesn't prosecute more than 100 cases in an average year. Now Smith is working on 700 prosecutions. 

As of Monday, September 20, the only help Smith had in prosecuting the astronomical number of cases is one secretary. He has been in contact with state officials, who have informed him that they are attempting to acquire funding to provide additional resources, he says. However, the work he and others are doing, he said, "is like trying to build a dam with the floodgates already open."

DPS and county law enforcement "just don't have the manpower and resources for ground operations off the highway," Smith said, which is why Texans at the border have been asking Abbott since April to deploy the Texas National Guard to patrol and apprehend migrants, which he has not yet done. 

When asked about deploying guard troops on the ground, Abbott's office has replied that they have been tasked with over watch to assist Border Patrol efforts.

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