Questioned reports lead to calls for state hearings on Colony Ridge

After several news outlets and groups claimed that Colony Ridge, a property development north of Houston, is “the largest illegal alien settlement” in Texas and the center of a handful of crimes, the Republican Party of Texas passed a resolution calling on the legislature to act.

Published: October 1, 2023 11:02pm

(The Center Square) -

After several news outlets and groups claimed that Colony Ridge, a property development north of Houston, is “the largest illegal alien settlement” in Texas and the center of a handful of crimes, the Republican Party of Texas passed a resolution calling on the legislature to act.

The resolution specifically cites a report by The Daily Wire, which claims “the ‘fastest growing development’” in the United States “is a magnet for illegal immigrants.”

It cites a claim made by a nonprofit fellow who said, “There’s very thin law enforcement presence in that area,” and it appeals to illegal foreign nationals “to live and work there.”

As The Center Square has previously reported, the residents of Colony Ridge pay for the majority of Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies patrolling the area (10 out of 11), which is “the highest number of officers per capita in Liberty County,” the property developer told The Center Square.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have expressed support for sending more law enforcement to the area. Patrick also said he and Abbott discussed holding hearings about Colony Ridge in a few weeks when the legislature convenes for another special session to consider a school choice bill.

The Daily Wire report also cites the Liberty County sheriff saying that deputies “do not check immigration status in routine stops because it ‘would take forever’” and that “immigration status of suspects would only be checked when investigating violent crimes.”

However, the sheriff does not have the legal authority to check immigration status, federal immigration experts told The Center Square.

“Only federal agents can determine alienage who have Title 8 authority,” Luisa Deason, former public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Houston District Office, told The Center Square. “These include ICE, CBP, HSI, or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or a law enforcement official that has been deputized with 287-G status.

“An officer with 287-G status only has limited authority to question individuals regarding their immigration status--only after they’ve already been arrested and booked for a non-immigration related crime, like domestic violence, for example. They cannot enforce immigration law. The law affords for them to detain them and for ICE agents to pick them up.”

A former Border Patrol agent and Homeland Security Investigations special agent told The Center Square that “no law enforcement officers,” including LCSO deputies and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, “have the authority to arrest or detain an individual based on immigration status because they do not have Title 8 authority. They would likely be sued if they did.” He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the nature of his current law enforcement position and for fear of reprisal.

“What if a federal agent came up to me and said, ‘you look Russian, speak fluent Russian and you seem like you’re in the U.S. illegally. I’m going to detain you.’ After he does, he just violated my constitutional rights and I have grounds for a tremendous lawsuit. That’s why the law is so specific on who can and cannot exercise Title 8 and 287-G authority.

“As liberty-loving citizens of this country, we do not want law enforcement across the board to arrest on the suspicion of being in the country illegally. If we did, we’d have law enforcement officers initiating raids on yellow and brown people and that’s not what this country is founded on.”

The Daily Wire reporting on crime in Colony Ridge appears to repeat similar claims made by the Center for Immigration Studies, which misreported basic facts, local newspaper editor, publisher and owner of Bluebonnet News and El Amanecer Texas, Vanesa Brashier, told The Center Square. They don’t report “where the crimes actually occurred or originated.”

The Daily Wire report claims that Colony Ridge “and the surrounding area have been the site of both drug-related and violent crimes,” including these: “the murder of a mother of five by a Mexican woman who reportedly practiced Santeria, and was married to a high ranking Mexican cartel member;” “a 16-year old girl was found dead from a gunshot wound in a ditch in Colony Ridge;” and “an illegal immigrant in the area killed five neighbors, a family who was also here illegally...”

The Houston mother’s body was dumped in Colony Ridge but her murderer “lived in Houston and had no connection to Colony Ridge,” Brashier said. The same is true of the teenager whose body was also dumped in Colony Ridge.

“Once again, the crime began in Houston where the suspects were later arrested,” she said.

When referring to Colony Ridge, Center for Immigration Studies claimed she worked “at a local restaurant,” but she actually lived and worked over an hour away in Houston, KHOU News 11 reported. She was reportedly killed by her ex-boyfriend and others involved in a Houston-area gang.

The murder of a Honduran family occurred in San Jacinto County, not in Colony Ridge, The Center Square previously reported. Brashier was one of two reporters on the scene the night of the murder and broke the story. No Colony Ridge residents were involved.

CIS claimed the “massacre happened in America’s largest illegal immigrant’ colonia,’” meaning Colony Ridge, even though it happened in San Jacinto County. The Center Square previously reported that Colony Ridge is statutorily not a colonia, according to the Office of the Texas Attorney General.

The Daily Wire also pointed to a 2013-era illegal marijuana growing operation, “but doesn’t explain that the marijuana field was more than an hour’s drive from Colony Ridge in Hardin, Texas,” and Colony Ridge residents had nothing to do with it, Brashier said.

Brashier is an award-winning journalist who won recognition from the Texas Press Association and was Journalist of the Year for Southeast Texas Press Association in 2006. She previously managed local newspapers for the Houston Chronicle in several counties and six newspapers for Houston Community Newspapers. After she started Bluebonnet News, three of those community newspapers went out of business.

“Facts still matter to me,” she said, “and they should to other journalists. Everything we do is built on trust, so when something is misrepresented, it erodes trust in all media.”

Brashier also was critical of the images and photos currently being published on websites and on social media “that are intended to show Colony Ridge in the worst possible light. Again, this is to fit a narrative. Yes, you can find dilapidated structures in the community just like you can find them in Harris County [home to Houston] and anywhere else, but I never see the articles on Colony Ridge using photos of the hundreds of quarter-of-a-million-dollar homes now being built, or the new schools and shopping centers. If you are going to report on Colony Ridge and Liberty County, Texas, please get the facts straight.”

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