Texas ranchers testify about property damage, crime caused by illegal foreign nationals

They testified about property damages caused by foreign nationals trespassing on their land while attempting to evade law enforcement after they’ve illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico.

Updated: March 19, 2023 - 11:27pm

Several land owners and officials testified about property damages caused by foreign nationals trespassing on their land while attempting to evade law enforcement after they’ve illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico.

They testified before a state state Senate Committee on Border Security on Thursday and expressed support for a bill filed by Democratic state Sen. César Blanco.

Blanco, who represents eight far west Texas counties, filed SB 1133 to create a grant program to compensate certain property owners for damages caused by criminal activities on agricultural land. It would amend state Code of Criminal Procedure to create the program, which would be administered by the attorney general’s office.

“With increased trafficking and drug smuggling activity along the Texas border and in rural communities, ranchers and farmers have reported significant financial losses and property damage to their fences, crops, livestock, equipment, and other property,” Blanco said. “This bill would provide farmers and ranchers in border and rural counties much-needed relief from the damages caused by trafficking, smuggling, and bail-outs on their personal property.”

The bill has the support of several groups, including the Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Javier Ramirez with the TSCRA, who manages a ranch near La Prior, Texas, roughly 40 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, says the ranch is “literally every day … bombarded with … bailouts, drive-throughs, high-speed chases, cut fences, cut locks, gates left open, foot traffic, break-ins [and] stolen vehicles… .”

Vehicles take out 6-8 fences, several feet of fence or entire gates at a time, he explained. “Typically it’s not just one vehicle that goes off the highway into one fence,” he said, but through multiple fences on multiple properties.

Once fences are torn down, cattle escape, which requires many hours and usually helicopters to rectify the problem, he said. Loose cattle impacts their breeding schedule, which impacts their sale schedule and contributes to loss of income and overall operations, he added.

Other problems are caused when illegal foreign nationals trespass on property and cut large holes in fences as they make their way north seeking to evade capture by law enforcement. The holes enable livestock to get out, resulting in their death or wandering onto a road. This endangers people’s lives by potentially causing a car accident, he explained. Because of where the wires are often cut, he said, “You don’t know you have the issue until it’s bad.”

Charles Maley with the South Texans Property Rights Association said, “every Texas county is a border county because cartel-driven activity directly impact every one of our 254 counties.” STPRA members have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs for which they aren’t reimbursed, he said.

In the summer, vehicles can also start fires. One wreck caused a 6,000-acre fire, he said. When smugglers bring large groups, he explained, those who can’t keep up get lost and disoriented. One way they know they might be rescued is to start a grass fire, he said, “fires that can ultimately rage across hundreds and thousands of acres.”

Trespassers and smugglers also damage water structures and leave large amounts of trash that destroy the environment. On cropland, heavy foot traffic “literally walks the crops flat,” he said.

McMullen County Sheriff Emmett Shelton said the bill was long overdo. McMullen County Judge James Teal signed a declaration of disaster last July declaring an invasion in the 1,145-square-mile county, stating its 608 residents were “under an imminent threat of disaster from the unprecedented levels of illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling coming across the U.S. border from Mexico.”

The county also documented thousands of “illegal aliens who avoided apprehension by Border Patrol and whose whereabouts are currently unknown.”

Damages are being caused by drivers of stolen vehicles, Shelton said, “and as law enforcement we can’t turn our back on that. When we see it, we’ve gotta go after it and try to recover the vehicle.”

From 2017-2020, the sheriff’s office recovered 50 stolen vehicles after engaging in 57 pursuits. From 2021 to 2022, they engaged in 166 pursuits and recovered 152 vehicles, he said, with the majority being large high-powered, high-end pickup trucks that cause significant damage to fences and property.

The trucks are newer, with less than 700 miles on them, he said, and can go through 10-15 fences “trying to get away from us. Unless they hit something that stops and disables the vehicle,” he said, “they keep going. Every single pursuit involved fence damage, we’re talking 20 fences each pursuit.”

Sen. Louis Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who cosponsored the bill, said she consistently hears from landowners, farmers, and ranchers who’ve “experienced devastating damage and property losses due to border bailouts. Many of these landowners have no mechanism to be reimbursed for their property losses, and it is severely impacting their farming and ranching operations.”

Because of the federal government’s failure to act, she said, “Texas legislators from both parties are stepping up and responding to the needs of our constituents … who have suffered property damage through no fault of their own.”