(The Center Square)
The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce held its first joint Office of Investigations and Health Subcommittee field hearing in McAllen, Texas, examining the ongoing crisis at the southern border.
Brooks County, Texas, Sheriff Benny Martinez testified to the record number of dead bodies his deputies found, over $1 million in costs to the county, hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage to residents, and record numbers of human and drug smuggling occurring since President Joe Biden’s been in office.
The unique challenges his rural county, located 70 miles north of McAllen, faces, he said Wednesday, is “a national security issue, a public health issue and a humanitarian issue.” And it’s being caused by foreign nationals coming from over 150 countries who’ve illegally entered the U.S., including those between ports of entry seeking to evade law enforcement, he said.
Chair of the subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia, said it was important the committee convene in Texas “to shed light on the brutal and unsustainable conditions this president’s administration has caused at our border. No other country in the world operates its borders in the manner this administration has chosen.”
Chair of the full committee, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-WA, said the president’s “open borders agenda was putting Americans all across this country at risk and turning every town into a border town.”
Martinez, a Democrat, said that when people travel north by car on Highway 281 from McAllen, they must stop through a Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, “one of the busiest checkpoints in regards to undocumented crossers’ apprehensions and narcotics seizures.”
Martinez, who used to work narcotics for DPS for nearly 20 years, said this corridor is a major human and drug smuggling route. To avoid getting caught by Border Patrol agents, many illegal foreign nationals led by coyotes (human smugglers) cut through ranchers’ fences and trespass on private property to go around the checkpoint. If they don’t get caught, they get picked up at a prearranged location to get transported north, “usually to Houston,” he said.
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In some cases, “local gang members and other seeking financial gain who live in the county drive the human smuggling through ranchland by cutting locks and fences causing untold private property damage,” he said. “The sad reality is many do not survive the journey.”
The land is desolate, barren and desert-like in summer months when temperatures reach well over 100 degrees. Many traveling by foot don’t have proper shoes or clothes and don’t have enough water or food. They die from dehydration, a snakebite, being injured or from the natural elements, or are left behind by smugglers for being too slow, he’s told The Center Square.
In August 2021, Martinez testified before a Texas House Appropriations Committee on border security funding, stating Brooks County had seen “a 140% increase in dead bodies, a 130% increase in 911 calls, over 200% increase in rescues.”
Since then, those numbers increased astronomically. In 2022, his deputies, responsible for covering 943 square miles, found 917 dead bodies compared to 119 in 2021 and 34 in 2020, the sheriff’s office told The Center Square. So far this year, they’ve found 12.
The cost to the county to recover and help identify the bodies has totaled nearly $1 million, he said.
The county’s operations are being impacted on a daily basis, including ambulances being pulled from providing assistance to taxpaying residents to assist with calls in remote areas where turn around times are between 4 to 5 hours, he said, “leaving our constituents without emergency medical services. This has put a strain on the local health system.”
Last year, there were 150 EMS calls for illegal foreign nationals and three deaths on route to hospitals, he said. Fires caused due to illegal immigration burned 336,208 acres, which cost the county’s fire department $75,000 in fuel, breakdowns in equipment, and related costs, he said.
The cost to only one of the HALO-Flight, South Texas’ nonprofit air ambulance service, was approximately $320,000 and only $45,000 was reimbursed, he said.
The Falfurrias checkpoint reported a 100% increase in firearms seizures in 2022 from 2021, he said, “a 400% increase in checkpoint vehicle circumventions, 150% increase in cocaine seizures, a 1,743% increase in meth seizures, 175% increase in apprehensions of gang members, 67% increase in apprehensions of sexual offenders, and a 220% increase in alien smuggling cases.”
He also said “we have a high number of sexual assault cases that occur on these females that are crossing” through local ranches.
Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, which participates in Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security mission, from March through October 2022, engaged in 322 smuggling pursuits and 204 bailouts, he said. They also recovered 181 stolen vehicles and at least 31 firearms, seized over $500,000 in cash going to Mexico, recorded $286,000 in private property damage and have charged 179 people for engaging in organized criminal activity.
The U.S. can stop the flow of fentanyl and smuggling if current laws were enforced, he said. “Everything’s in place” to secure the border. DEA, CBP and other agents should be allowed to do their jobs, he said. “Just let them work. They know what they’re doing.”
Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.