(The Center Square) – Kinney County, Texas, Sheriff Brad Coe told members of Congress on Wednesday his small rural county of less than 3,200 people “was under siege” by illegal foreign nationals “being smuggled through the county on back roads that circumvent U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints.”
Coe said he was “fighting so hard, so I don’t lose the county.”
A former Border Patrol agent of 30 years before he was elected sheriff, Coe testified before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security at a field hearing on border security held in Pharr, Texas.
Kinney County was the first county to declare an invasion in Texas on July 5, 2022. It shares 16 miles of border with Mexico and spans roughly 1,370 square miles.
A rural and agricultural county, its residents raise sheep, goats and cattle and rely on hunting as a primary source of revenue.
With the current “open door” Biden administration border policies, Coe said, “Kinney County has seen a dramatic increase in illegal alien activity.” The number of people trespassing on private property caught on game cameras currently averages 165 people a night, he said. These are considered “gotaways,” he said, people who intentionally seek to evade capture by law enforcement.
The numbers are on track for an estimated 60,225 foreign nationals projected to walk through the county evading law enforcement this calendar year, he said--that's nearly 20 times the population of the county.
Kinney County doesn’t have the personnel or equipment to actively pursue them, he said, with a staff of six full-time deputies and eight part-time deputies.
The high-level of foot traffic and damage to private property caused by mostly single, military aged men, he said, was costing residents “more on repairs than they can afford,” adding, there’s “no way to recoup those losses.” Large groups of people walking across the land prevents the grass and natural foliage from growing, which reduces food for livestock, he explained.
Smuggling of people has picked up tremendously along the county’s six highways, which lead directly from the border north through the county, Coe said. Two additional roads circumvent the Border Patrol checkpoints on U.S. Highway 90, which have seen unprecedented increases in human smuggling activity.
Last year, Kinney County deputies arrested 741 human smugglers and filed over 3,000 felony charges, he said. That’s an increase over their previous record of 169 human smuggling arrests in 2021, he said.
“Currently we are on track to exceed [apprehending] over 900 human smugglers for calendar year 2023,” Coe said, which brings with it increased vehicle pursuits and bailouts, traffic accidents and deaths, he said. This puts a huge strain on first responders and local taxpayers who have to pick up the costs, he said, which often aren’t reimbursed.
Residents suffer when the limited resources they pay for are pulled away to respond to accidents caused by foreign nationals in the country illegally. In one instance while EMS personnel were attending “injured illegal aliens,” he said, “a resident of Kinney County suffered a heat attack … who didn’t survive.” He asked if the resident would have survived “if the primary on duty EMS team responded?”
“We’ll never know,” he said.
With the damage being done to property and increasing costs, Coe’s said he's fearful the primary source of revenue – ranching and hunting – will disappear. If they do, he said, there’s no industry left to sustain the county.
“We depend on our ranchers and hunters,” he said. “We have no port of entry for international trade, or tourism. At one time Kinney County was a world leader in the production of wool and mohair. That has gone away.”
Kinney County was once the “Movie Capital of Texas,” he said, where movies like John Wayne’s "The Alamo," "Lonesome Dove," "The Gambler," "Bad Girls," and others were filmed. “Alamo Village was a huge tourist attraction,” he said, which brought in people from across the county. That’s since closed.
“All we have left is our agriculture and hunters,” he said. “If our ranchers sell due to loss of revenue, who’s going to buy the property?
“If the hunters quit coming, our gas station, our grocery store, and restaurants are going to close. What happens to the residents of Kinney County when the ranchers go out of business and the hunters quit coming?
“This is why I am fighting so hard, so I don’t lose the county.”