Many Winter Texans have been calling their RV parks and the local chamber of commerce offices asking if it is safe to come back to the Rio Grande Valley this fall because of the influx of immigrant youth and children. National media has given many the impression that the border is running wild with immigrant children all over the place.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry on July 21 issued an order to deploy 1,000 Texas National Guard members along the border to assist the Texas Department of Public Safety with law enforcement efforts along the river. Since then, the numbers of illegals crossing the Rio Grande have dropped dramatically.
A few days later during a drive to San Antonio, I counted 26 Department of Public Safety (DPS) vehicles headed toward the Valley. There were also four tanker trucks for the state guard and each was pulling a trailer that appeared to carry all-terrain vehicles.
In an effort to see if there were large groups of immigrants in the country illegally traveling the border roads as some Winter Texans seemed to believe was happening, I took a drive along the river on Military Highway from 10th Street in McAllen to Bentsen Palm Road, on the west side of Mission. There were no large groups of people who looked like recent immigrants roaming anywhere.
What I observed instead was every half-mile or so there was a law enforcement vehicle on the side of the road or somewhat hidden in the brush. These included Border Patrol, DPS (Texas Department of Public Safety) and local police and Sheriff’s Department vehicles. And I am told on Abram Road where there is a place where immigrants previously could cross the river easily, there is a sheriff’s vehicle stationed 24 hours a day.
In an interview on the border situation, Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez recently told the Progress Times the crime rate in Mission has dropped. The Mission Police Department’s Crime Report supports what the chief said. Most classifications of felony crimes were down during the first six months of 2014 as compared to the same period one year ago, for an average 9 percent drop in crime. Burglaries are down from 250 to 149 during the first six months. Also somewhat lower numbers were reported in the larceny, auto theft and aggravated assault categories.
Chief Dominguez said the federal government had recently issued a supplement to the annual Stonegarden Grant that provides for overtime for officers and equipment needed for patrolling the areas along the Rio Grande.
Dominguez also said any immigrants in the country illegally who have a criminal record in their home country will automatically be deported.
Eddie Olivarez, chief administrative officer for Hidalgo County Health and Human Services told the Winter Texan Times the reports of diseases carried by recent illegal immigrants are being greatly exaggerated by the media. So far, he knows of only 10 cases of chicken pox and no measles in Hidalgo County. Most health problems are related to the lice and scabies they pick up while traveling, or from bruises, sprains and other injuries they received during their trip.
“Keep in mind, in order to walk the 700-plus miles from the border of Guatemala and other Central American counties, as many have, they had to be in relatively good health to successfully make the trip,” Olivarez said.
He knew of only one case where a person was hospitalized after being seen at the intake center.
Rio Grande Valley is Safe
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra told the Winter Texan Times that Hidalgo County is one of the safest areas in the country. In spite of the large number of people crossing the border, the crime rate has not gone up. He encourages Winter Texans to continue to come to the Valley because the border has more security than ever, due to a much greater presence of law enforcement all along the border.
When asked about the large number of public safety vehicles and state guard tanker trucks we observed driving toward the Valley, the sheriff said the border was getting heavy reinforcement from other areas of the state.
“We have identified strategic points along the river where it is easiest for illegals… to cross. That is where the ATVs and tanker trucks would be most useful. If the terrain is not suitable for use of vehicles, the ATVs will be used to apprehend those crossing the border,” said Guerra.
After seeing the convoy of public safety vehicles coming toward the Rio Grande Valley, I once again spoke with Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez, asking him about the convoy. He laughed when I told him I had seen 26 DPS cars in a convoy and told me, “I drove to San Antonio last Wednesday and I counted 70 DPS vehicles coming toward McAllen.”
He went on to say border security is heavy from Brownsville along the river through Starr County to Falcon Dam. Dominguez said most of the immigrants are turning themselves in as soon as they see a law enforcement officer. Only those with criminal records, who know they will be deported, are attempting to avoid capture.
Dominguez said the number of illegal immigrants apprehended has dropped significantly – to less than half the number the area was seeing a month ago. The tide has turned.
Immigrants Not Staying in RGV
These immigrants are not staying in the Rio Grande Valley. According to information shared at a HUMANE Act news conference held July 18, at least 20 to 25 planeloads of people had already been deported to their homelands. Those who have been cleared, who have relatives already in the United States who are willing to care for them, are being placed on buses in McAllen to travel north to other states where their relatives are located.
A friend of mine recently went to the McAllen bus station to meet a friend arriving on a bus. “The station was teeming with people,” she told me. “All of them seemed to be in good health and were dressed in nice clothing. It was impossible to tell who was a recent immigrant and who was not until I saw a woman wearing a Sacred Heart Catholic Church shirt walking around looking at bus tickets and telling certain people which bus to board.”
Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen has headed a humanitarian effort to help those released from the intake center get ready to move north by providing travel information, clothing and other basic needs before their trips start.
All in all, the South Texas border along the Rio Grande Valley is safer today than it has been in the past, according to local law enforcement officials. There are no large crowds of immigrants roaming the streets. Local reports indicate that most of the illegal immigrants arriving in the Rio Grande Valley are either travelling to more northern states to unite with family members already in the U.S., or they are being detained for further processing before being deported.
With the heavy influx of out-of-Valley law enforcement coming to the aid of local law enforcement officials, Chief Dominguez had no problem advising Winter Texans not to change their plans to spend their winters in the Rio Grande Valley because “It is safer than it has been in many years.”