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” WE WILL MAKE A STRONG VOICE,” JUDGE SAYS
BORDER REGION GOVERNMENTS HIGHLIGHT HUMANITARIAN ISSUES, CRIM SURGE IN IMMIGRATION CRISIS
A ten-county group of local government leaders is set to be complete this week as La Salle commissioners meet to ratify joining the coalition that addresses border issues.
To date, county governments signing onto the panel include Frio, Atascosa, Wilson, Karnes, McMullen, Live Oak, Dimmit, Kinney and Medina.
La Salle County would have joined the coalition Friday, June 23, but commissioners canceled their meeting at short notice.
According to La Salle County Judge Leodoro Martinez III, elected officials support joining the group and are likely to vote unanimously. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, July 6.
The coalition aims to use its collective voice in applying pressure on the state and federal governments to take more aggressive action in resolving a humanitarian crisis at the border.
Individually, county judges also hope to secure more assistance for local residents who have been adversely affected by a surge of undocumented immigrants in South Texas, notably cases in which smugglers evade law enforcement by driving through South Texas ranches.
The Texas Legislature signed a policy into law last month that serves to divert funding to compensation for landowners whose property has been damaged by trespassers during law enforcement pursuits.
Frio County Judge Rochelle Camacho said in an interview last month that she hopes the ten-county coalition will work to bring relief to those who have suffered losses due to the border crisis.
In La Salle County, Judge Martinez said he expects the weight of the coalition to have an impact on federal legislators who will make longterm changes to US border policy.
Each of the counties represented in the coalition has recorded high numbers of smuggler transports of undocumented immigrants and related crime. La Salle County joining the coalition is punctuated this week by reports of high-speed chases that have indicated criminal organization of drivers in lookout and smuggler vehicles trying to evade capture.
A two-year-old initiative by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to confront the surge in unlawful border crossings by directing additional law enforcement and Texas Army National Guard troops to the border region has also included funds for local officers working overtime in border security-related patrols. Operation Lone Star has produced a heavy law enforcement presence in border counties with additional Department of Public Safety troopers working supplemental patrols.
Judge Martinez is joined by 81st Judicial District Attorney Audrey Louis in pointing out that many regional governments and county law enforcement agencies are being called upon to do the work of federal agents, and both believe the US government has not adequately funded or responded to needs among Border Patrol and immigration agencies in stemming the tide of unlawful immigrants.
DA Louis addressed an assembly of South Texas elected officials and property owners in La Salle County in late May and said she believes federal policies have either hampered border security or contributed to a surge of illegal immigration and related crime.
“It’s not going to stop,” the district attorney said of the immigrant surge. “The Border Patrol is hamstrung, and the sheriff’s offices and DPS are doing the duties of the Border Patrol. We have taken on the role of a federal prosecutor. We have had hundreds of cases of smuggling, and until we have a change in administration, it’s not going to stop.”
Judge Martinez said he believes the border crisis must be better understood, both locally and nationally, if a resolution is to be effective.
The La Salle County judge is at pains to point out that the crisis involves not only the pressure of asylum seekers waiting to enter the United States at official ports of entry but also those who cross illegally without registering and are then subject to smuggling through South Texas by so-called coyotes, many of whom may be controlled by Mexican drug cartels.
Cartel involvement was also addressed at the May 25 conference in La Salle County, with several law enforcement agencies and elected officials acknowledging that organized crime stands to profit from the illegal immigrant surge.
“There’s a big problem out there,” the La Salle County judge said, “and we can only do so much. Maybe we can catch the ear of Washington, DC.
“Our goal is going after federal funds for the Texas governor,” Martinez said in a June interview. “The federal government is sitting back, looking at us.”
Martinez, a Democrat, added that he believes the issue is non-partisan. He reiterated that belief in an interview last week.
“I believe we have unanimous support for this action,” the judge said on Friday of La Salle County’s commitment to back the coalition. “We are ten counties right now, and we are looking to bring five more into the fold.
“With us doing this, we will make a strong voice, in the Texas Capitol and in DC,” the county judge said. “There is a problem going on, and hopefully DC will put more emphasis on border policy.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat stance,” Martinez said. “I believe this is a humanitarian stance.”