In Pursuit of a Secure Border: Small Texas County Leads Charge Against Border Crime

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KINNEY COUNTY, Texas—Charging an illegal immigrant with a misdemeanor such as criminal trespass sounds simple enough.

But throw 1,008 cases at a small county with a jail that has 14 spaces and a court system that usually handles six or seven cases per month—using Microsoft Word—and the wheels start to fall off.

On June 10, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed state troopers to start arresting illegal aliens—on charges including trespass, criminal mischief, and evading on foot—officials in Kinney County jumped on the idea.

County Sheriff Brad Coe was keen to stick illegal immigrants with any charges he could to deter them from coming to his county.

“We’re going to try to hold these people accountable,” Coe said. He also wanted to get them in the system because the illegal aliens captured in Kinney County have evaded Border Patrol, so they’re unknown.

Since January, ranchers and local law enforcement had seen an unprecedented increase in the number of illegal aliens traversing the county, and they’d given up on expecting federal solutions. Local ranchers, tired of cut fences and property damage, signed affidavits allowing the sheriff and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to press charges on their behalf.

Although Abbott announced the Operation Lone Star border security initiative in June, it took almost two months to secure enough jail space and for the DPS to work out the process. The state set up a temporary 100-bed detention center in neighboring Val Verde County and cleared out the 1,000-bed Briscoe Unit in Dilley.

Meanwhile, in July, almost 10,000 illegal aliens evaded Border Patrol in the Del Rio Sector, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection numbers.

By August, DPS was ready to start the initiative in Val Verde and Kinney counties. In Kinney, DPS assigned a small team to work the brush near the U.S.–Mexico border in areas of high foot traffic. The officers quickly started arresting an average of 25 illegal aliens per day from private ranches, often at night.

At the sheriff’s office, state troopers and local jail staff took about two hours to complete the paperwork and magistrate seven Mexicans who were arrested late on Aug. 7. They’d been walking for two days before being caught on a ranch.

By Charlotte Cuthbertson

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