GALVESTON COUNTY – With the number of people illegally crossing our southern border steadily increasing each month, according to Customs and Border Protection data, many rural counties are seeing their resources drained.
As KPRC 2 Investigates reported, Galveston County has been consistently sending law enforcement resources to border communities since 2021.
“When we have hurricanes hit us, we ask for help and Texas comes. So, when other Texans ask for help, we step up because we know what it’s like to need help,” said Galveston County Precinct 4 Constable Justin West.
KPRC 2 rode with West as he made his fifth trip to Kinney County, west of San Antonio. According to Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe, the number of smuggling arrests went from 169 in 2021 to 741 in 2022. Coe said his county only has six full-time deputies, and help from outside agencies is welcome.
“The Galveston crew coming in and out the way that they do, they accounted for between 12 and 16 percent of all apprehensions and everything we did last year,” said Coe.
Coe and West said many of the smuggling cases seen now are individuals looking to make quick cash by driving a handful of people from the border to points north.
“There’s a lot more of these small loads, one or two vehicles together,” said West. “Either desperation or greed, it’s one or the other.”
West said many smugglers are caught driving through Brackettville as a way to avoid main roads. During a recent patrol, one of West’s deputy constables spotted the driver of a black Mercedes making erratic movements and running a stop sign.
“He was looking to bail, they were looking to stop and run,” said deputy constable Jeremy Conn.
Conn said the two men in the backseat of the car were in the country illegally, one man was from Honduras and the other man was from the Island of Roatan. The men were then transferred to the custody of Border Patrol.
The driver initially denied any wrongdoing but later admitted to being on parole and wearing an ankle monitor. The driver, identified as Trayvon Maurice Barnes, broke down and pleaded for his freedom in exchange for information.
“I’m begging, please bro. I’m on my knees bro, please bro. I’m on my knees, bro. I’m sorry,” Barnes said after being handcuffed. “I can give up the whole thing. I’ll give the whole operation up just for my car and my freedom. I will give you everybody.”
Both West and Conn said whatever information Barnes was willing to provide will be passed on to the Texas Department of Public Safety special operations units working along the border. However, both doubted Barnes had much information to share.
“Nobody knows the full route. Nobody knows who’s controlling all this. They can only give the little bit of the compartmentalized information they’ve been given,” said Conn.
Less than an hour after this arrest, deputies chased another suspected smuggler 10 miles outside of Brackettville. The driver and passengers bailed out of the truck and ran into a dense patch of mesquite. A nighttime search in frigid temperatures was difficult as there is no lighting in the area. Visibility was compounded by misting rain.
“Cell phones don’t work great up here, our radios barely work up here,” said Conn.
West flew a drone over the area, but nothing was spotted and deputies eventually gave up the search.
Neighboring Maverick County is experiencing the same drain on resources because of what is happening along the border. Both counties are in Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which has seen a 55% increase in apprehensions in the first three months of the fiscal year 2023.
“We are no longer the Maverick County that we grew up in,” said Jaime Iracheta, a fourth-generation Texan and Maverick County Attorney. “We’ve never seen the community the way it is now. We have helicopters flying over our homes every night, we have high-speed chases happening in our neighborhoods.”
Iracheta said while the state has sent additional resources to Maverick County, the number of misdemeanor and felony cases continues to grow and is outpacing a county that, like Kinney County, has to share a district attorney with two other counties.
“We’ve already experienced, in just 2022 alone, over 1,000 smuggling cases. That’s never happened before,” said Iracheta.
Iracheta said the county has also recovered 300 ‘John Does’ who are believed to be immigrants who died from exposure.
“We’re desperate, we’re going to Austin next week,” said Maverick County Pct. 3 Commissioner Olga Ramos.
Ramos showed KPRC 2 pictures of large volumes of trash left behind by immigrants crossing through private ranches and farms in the county.
“They don’t know how to handle this. How do they pick it up? Is it contaminated?” asked Ramos.
Ramos said while she gets daily calls for help, the county doesn’t have the funds to clean up private property. Ramos said there are also constant reports of fences being damaged.
“Now it’s on a daily basis, the damages that they’re making to their fences,” said Ramos.
Both Iracheta and Ramos said they’ll be in Austin next week asking lawmakers for additional help.
“Our biggest thing is we need people to understand that it’s not OK. We need somebody to pay attention to what’s happening down here,” said Iracheta.