On 1,300 square miles of rough, rugged wilderness dotted with scrub brush and baked brown by the South Texas heat, Kinney County is a hotspot for smugglers and traffickers—and reveals just a glimpse of the shocking humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border.
Illegal border crossers trekking through Kinney County are not of the “women and children searching for a better life” variety, but are instead coyotes herding groups of men and occasionally women and children in vehicles or on foot past patrol checkpoints and through local ranches.
John and Donna Schuster, longtime Kinney County residents, live 25 miles from the Rio Grande River. Donna, a second-generation rancher, previously told Texas Scorecard the out-of-control southern border has turned their life “completely upside down.”
“You don’t leave the house before daylight, and you’ve got to be home before dark, and you keep your blinds closed,” John explained. Additionally, doors are stoppered and pistols don’t leave your hip, even once inside.
“The destruction and the fear, it’s 24/7. We never get a break. You know, like a police officer goes to work, works his 12-hour shift, then he goes home. We’re on standby, on guard 24/7 just to protect ourselves.”
Now, Operation Lone Star—the Texas government’s current border security program—has Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers traversing Kinney County and tracking illegal border crossers with game cameras installed on private ranches. Donna said, “[DPS] is telling me that they’re catching them before they ever get to us. That’s why we’re not seeing the foot traffic that we were seeing.”
However, despite the lessened foot traffic at the moment, two bailouts (where coyotes abandon vehicles in a chase and escape) occurred on the Schusters’ property just in the past couple of weeks. Both times John says the coyotes escaped and left behind only women, children, and stolen vehicles. Local Border Patrol agents, Texas DPS troopers, and the Kinney County sheriff and his deputies are struggling to respond to all of the property owners’ calls as well as the large groups crossing at neighboring Del Rio and Eagle Pass.
On top of that, the treks through the rough lands in the extreme Texas summer weather are especially perilous—and even deadly. In Kinney County, six or seven illegal border crossers have died from heat exhaustion this year, and John said that in Del Rio, “they’re finding one dead body a day due to heat exhaustion somewhere, or a drowning.”
Although OLS and the federal Stonegarden grant provide pay for contract officers to relieve the eight members of the Kinney County Sheriff’s Office, neither covers the cost of fuel or the vehicle maintenance to keep the local officers on the roads.
“The cost is just astronomical,” said John said, especially as the county only has a little more than 3,000 citizens. “It’s just eating our county up. It’s costing [us] to provide EMTs and first responders and for our sheriff’s department and deputies.”
Additionally, there is only one EMT in Kinney County. Not only are backup EMTs more than an hour away, but they are often called to give illegal border crossers medical attention, instead of Texas citizens.
“We have a citizen in our county who needs medical attention or to call 911, and we don’t have anybody to service them. That’s when it gets down to … this touched a nerve. And this is not right,” John said. “We’re dealing with folks that are not taxpayers, that are illegal aliens, yet our citizens can’t get serviced. That’s when the frustration level really gets to a boiling point.”
“We can’t sustain it. We really need to figure out what the government can do now.”
Let’s call it an invasion. Declare an invasion. [Although] at the end of the day, that really doesn’t do anything different for us at a county-wide level. So, what we’re asking for is for those other counties to get on board, border counties and non-border counties, and then it’d be a political pressure point of which Governor Abbott then would possibly declare an invasion, which then would give him quite a bit more authority on a federal level rather than just at the state level.
“[Abbott will] never stop it,” John added. “We’re just wanting to get it manageable and know who’s in the country. Last month, our sheriff reported I don’t know how many smuggling attempts, but 4,600 were outed on game cameras that didn’t even get caught. They just walked through the county.”
John expects that nothing will change “until we do some kind of economic sanction against Mexico and we send our military, our badasses, to shove the cartel back away from the border 100 miles.”
Indeed, the cartels are currently making millions off of their rampant drug smuggling and human trafficking operations on the border, and some smugglers even said “business is booming” because of President Joe Biden’s administration. Illegal border crossings—which include terrorists and all kinds of criminals—are now at all-time highs, with more than 1.7 million encounters with border authorities just since the beginning of the last fiscal year in October.
And those are just the ones who got caught.
By the end of this fiscal year, encounters are on track to surpass more than 2 million—the most ever recorded in a year and about equivalent to the population of Houston.
Meanwhile, Kinney County residents are living through the disaster every single day.
A Change of Lifestyle
“Our kids are grown and gone. So, it’s just us looking after each other now,” said John. “We’re fortunate in that, but we do have some friends, some younger couples that, you know, their kids can’t go outside and play in the yard without a parent with them. They can’t go ride four-wheelers anymore. It’s changed a bunch.”
As traffickers careen down the highway in oftentimes stolen vehicles, DPS or county officers’ attempts to stop them often lead to a chase, with the traffickers eventually bailing out of the vehicle and dashing through town or escaping onto private property.
Kinney County taxpayers have spent an estimated $65,000 securing the small local schools, which sit within two city blocks and are attended by just about every child in the county.
“We have boulders about the size of the hood of your car, all along in front of the school, just to try to help prevent one of these bailouts as [illegals] go north through town,” John said.
However, “they’re not staying here,”he said.
“There’s nothing here for them to do,” John concluded. “They’re headed to Dallas, Houston, Chicago, the bigger cities.”