Photo: Foreign nationals in the U.S. illegally were apprehended by Operation Lone Star officers in Kinney County, Texas. Photo Credit: Kinney County officers
By Bethany Blankley [The Center Square contributor] –
As single, young, military-age men continue to enter Texas illegally at the southern border, many commit crimes as they head north attempting to evade capture by law enforcement, impacting residents of rural Texas counties, authorities say.
On Christmas Eve night, Kinney County residents were sent a text alert after a pursuit by law enforcement turned into a shooting. It stated, “Texas DPS, Kinney County Sheriff’s deputies and Border Patrol will remain in the area searching for the suspects. A large perimeter has been set and several groups of officers are on the ground searching for the suspects.
“Law enforcement is considering the suspects to be armed and dangerous. Keep all doors locked and secure. Call 911 if you see any suspicious persons. Area of concern is Fort Clark Springs and the surrounding area to include the City of Brackettville. Total at large is 5.”
The suspects were never caught.
Residents receive text alerts every time a high-speed pursuit occurs, Kinney County Sheriff’s office spokesman Matt Benacci told The Center Square. They primarily occur on Highway 90 through the small town of Brackettville heading in either direction to Uvalde County in the east or to Val Verde in the west.
“The type of crimes being committed, the increased violence, the willingness to risk dangerous encounters with law enforcement shows a more sophisticated, hardened criminal who may be higher up on the cartel food chain and doesn’t want to get caught,” Benacci said. “It’s different than others who respond to a social media ad hoping to earn a few thousand dollars to transport people north who get caught and try to get away.”
In neighboring Edwards County to the north, resident Deborah Douglas shared a video with The Center Square of a group of men also believed to be in Texas illegally who tried to break into her home. When they couldn’t break in, they broke into her neighbor’s house, she said. They also were never caught.
The judges of Kinney and Edwards counties were among the first to declare an invasion at the Texas-Mexico border in July. Since then, the judges and commissioners of at least 40 counties have declared an invasion.
Douglas told The Center Square she can’t go out on the front porch and have a cup of coffee without having her gun with her at her home in Edwards County.
“I can’t have my granddaughter outside alone playing,” she added, “because I’m afraid someone may kidnap her. Out here we are constantly looking over our shoulder, looking under bushes, listening to every sound, because we don’t know who might come on our property.
“It’s not safe to be anywhere by yourself out here,” she added. But it’s also not safe in Houston where she also lives and carries a gun inside her home, she told The Center Square. Houston, a primary destination for cartels, has seen increased violence as the largest city closest to the southern border.
“I’m worried about my children and grandchildren,” Douglas said. “Texas is going to become the new Mexico and it will be run by the cartels if [President Joe] Biden doesn’t shut down the border. He took an oath to defend the constitution and our laws, but instead opened the border to murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and known terrorists.”
“Gov. [Greg] Abbott needs to shut down the border – and he can do it,” she said.
In Real County, neighboring Edwards to the east, the sheriff’s office also sends alerts to residents. One recent alert told those in the Camp Wood area to be on alert after a vehicle pursuit and bailout. One “coyote was in custody,” the alert said, but “12-13 illegals [were in] the bush.”
“Be alert – lock your vehicles – notify law enforcement if illegals are observed in your area,” the alert warned.
Abbott has called on Biden to secure the border. The president has claimed the border is secure and has expressed no interest in visiting it. Because of his “refusal to do his job,” Abbott said, he launched Texas’ border security mission, Operation Lone Star, in March 2021. Since then, officers have apprehended more than 336,000 foreign nationals and made over 23,000 criminal arrests with over 20,000 felony charges reported as of Dec. 29.
Through OLS, more than 1,600 state troopers are working with hundreds of officers from local sheriff’s offices and police departments; at least 6,128 Texas National Guard members have been stationed at the border since last November, with another 3,700 Guardsmen and women deployed elsewhere.
Texas, which shares the longest border with Mexico of 1,254 miles, has had the lion’s share of illegal entries. In fiscal 2022, nearly 1.8 million people from over 150 countries were apprehended or evaded law enforcement, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Center Square from a Border Patrol agent.
This is over half of the more than 3.3 million illegal entries reported by Border Patrol for all nine southwest border sectors in the fiscal year.
Several hours to the east in rural Goliad County, law enforcement officers are finding stash houses used on private property and apprehending cartel and gang operatives.
OLS Task Force Commander John Davis says they are focused on catching individuals smuggling people, drugs and guns, illegal firearms, stolen vehicles and couriers of cash gained from illegal activities.
Cartels “will come and set up in your back yard if you’re not fighting them. If you show no resistance to their efforts they will move into your area,” he said.
“This may not be a declared war,” Davis said, “but it’s a war. I’ve spent my entire adult life doing this, but we get beat on a daily basis.
“We can’t stop everyone heading north to Houston. We can’t secure the border. We can’t stop the floodgates of illegal immigration. But we are holding the line doing our part.”