DEL RIO, Texas (Border Report) — Just moments after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced a sweeping eight-point plan on border security — which includes utilizing local law enforcement to arrest migrants, the state building a border fence, and getting federal reimbursement for ranchers — Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez slipped quietly from the Del Rio Civic Center.
At his hotel, he explained that he was “shocked” by the announcements that directly affect his South Texas county. And, he said he does not see a reason to declare a local disaster, as Abbott has asked him and 16 other hold-out border counties to do.
He clarified his reaction isn’t because he wants to be contrary with the governor, but he said it is because he felt Abbott “came with an agenda” to the Border Security Summit he held Thursday afternoon in Del Rio “to tell” — not to listen to local leaders’ suggestions or solutions. And, that bothered Cortez.
“I feel his frustration. I feel why he’s trying to move in the direction he is. However, I’m very concerned that he wants not only the state of Texas but all municipalities and counties to take on the duties of the federal government with respect to immigration and border security,” Cortez said.
But, some other border county judges who spoke to Border Report immediately after the two and a half hour summit concluded said they were moved by Abbott’s words, and a few said they were excited by his proposals for Texas and they plan to return to their hometowns and drum up support for Abbott’s proposals.
Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell told Border Report that after listening to the governor, he is inclined to request the commissioners in his South Texas county support a disaster declaration that he wants to issue for this county of 16,000 residents in order to qualify for state assistance. He said he plans to take it to commissioners on Monday.
“As a small rural county, our resources are very limited for our law enforcement, our sheriff’s department, so any help that the state can bring to our community would certainly be helpful. Those resources are needed in our area,” Rathmell said.
Rathmell said his regional and county jails “are at capacity. So no we wouldn’t be able to process or hold any undocumented aliens at this time. But things may change. But currently our jails are full.”
Our jails are full. … but the federal government has failed our communities and protecting our residents.”Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell
Nevertheless, he said he respects that Abbott is willing to step in “and his frustration from the governor is pretty clear as to how the federal government is handling this crisis. I do agree to some extent that the federal government has failed our communities and protecting our residents from overwhelming numbers of illegals coming into our area.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that more than half a million migrants were stopped on the Southwest border in the past three months.
Abbott met Thursday with a group of county judges for the affected counties named in his declaration he issued last week. He asked them all to issue a local county disaster declaration for their individual counties due to the influx of immigrants.
This is in order “to provide you with the resources and the help you need immediately,” Abbott said during a public forum that was held at the Del Rio Civic Center immediately following his private meetings with county judges and law enforcement personnel.
Abbott selected Del Rio because Val Verde County has been what he calls an epicenter for human smuggling and drug trafficking.
Seventeen of the 34 counties have not issued disaster declarations, including Hidalgo and Zapata.
But, Rathmell said: “I probably will after hearing what he had to say today in order to bring more resources to our county and overall help to protect our citizens. I think it’s worth the effort. So I will probably go along and sign the disaster declaration.”
Hudspeth County Judge Thomas Neely, who is 93, drove himself six hours from West Texas on Thursday to the summit in Del Rio, and afterwards praised Abbott and said “if anybody can (get the federal government to reimburse ranchers), he will.”
Neely has declared the disaster declaration and he urged the other counties to do so, saying “They may be missing an opportunity to show the rest of the United States just exactly what our problems are.”
Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara signed the declaration on May 26 and also urged the remaining counties to do the same.
Water lines have been cut in West Texas as migrants get lost in canyons and dangerous terrain, and some die from dehydration. But when the water lines are cut then local ranchers sometimes lose that precious resource or the ability to water cattle. Many also have fences downed by migrants crossing onto their property, which let wild stock out and put local motorists at risk.
“I think he’s spot on with how serious the problems are here on the border and I think that he’s doing everything possible that he possibly can and it’s going to be good for the State of Texas and so today was really excellent,” Guevara said. “I believe he has a really excellent plan and I’m truly grateful for the attention that he’s giving this crisis.”
Jeff Davis County Judge Curtis Evans said he is excited for the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Border and Homeland Security, which Abbott signed into existence at the summit on Thursday, and will include representatives from several state agencies that will meet biweekly on border issues. They will also take input from local officials.
He said he welcomes the opportunity to work with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which is part of that task force and will hold regular talks with local leaders. He said he wants Austin officials to understand that the small town of Valentine, population 200, “has been inundated with illegals continuously.” He said 80 migrants were arrested on Wednesday night.
“It is just a continuous problem. The ranches are being trashed. These groups are getting through and they’re cutting the fences. Livestock is getting mixed up, water lines cut. We had a house burned in our county. There’s vehicle chases coming through our town,” Evans said. “It’s a continuous situation. It’s every day. We do not have the funding to have any law enforcement full time on a 24-hour call. Now we’ll have an open line of communication.”