Rancher Mike Landry recently came upon a group of unarmed men dressed in camouflage burglarizing his guest house and stealing a truck from his 11,000 acres in Terrell County, rugged country bordering the Rio Grande in West Texas.
A couple of shots over their heads from his hunting rifle kept nine of them, all Mexican citizens, in place until Border Patrol agents arrived.
Stories like Landry’s seem to bolster Gov. Rick Perry’s recent decision to send elite teams from the state’s top law enforcement agency, the Texas Rangers, to remote borderlands to help them with security and deter a spillover of the gruesome drug-war violence plaguing Mexico. But Landry’s situation never grew violent, and many other ranchers, sheriffs and politicians along Texas’ 1,200 mile border with Mexico found the governor’s announcement puzzling.
Perry’s critics note that border crime has been falling in recent years–a point the governor concedes–and question whether sending some of the state’s 144 crack investigators supported by Texas National Guard troops to areas that have seen nothing worse than burglaries is a wise use of resources.
Terrell County is 2,300 square miles of desolation just north of the Rio Grande. Sheriff Clint McDonald and his six deputies protect its 1,200 residents on an otherworldly landscape that includes 60 miles of border.
Smuggling traffic is up this year, illustrated by 20 burglaries of ranches and hunting camps compared with two at this time last year, McDonald said, though he noted there was no violent crime. Smugglers’ “mules” carry marijuana, cocaine and heroin 30 or 40 miles north of the river in backpacks and break into ranches and hunting camps on their way back to Mexico for food and weapons, he said.
The Texas Border Coalition, a group of politicians and business people, maintains that the talk of spillover violence is overblown. Border Patrol apprehensions have made double-digit drops this year in every sector along the Texas-Mexico border except the Marfa sector, which includes Terrell County. That area has a fraction of the border apprehensions, but those are up about 15 percent compared with last year. The coalition asked Perry for more coordination and objected to his implication of “lawless hordes overrunning the border region.”
Lupe Trevino, the elected Democratic sheriff of urban Hidalgo County, said the Ranger Recon program was “an obvious political ploy” as Perry wades into a bruising Republican primary for re-election against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
“We don’t need the Texas Rangers to come to the border to quell any imaginary disturbance,” said Trevino, vice chairman of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Southwest Border Task Force.
But Wilson said Perry’s announcement that the Ranger Recons would be used to “address the increased burglaries of rural homes, ranches and hunting camps in remote areas along the Texas-Mexico border” wasn’t the whole story.
“What we’re really worried about” is the spillover of the drug cartel violence in northern Mexico, he said. “That’s what the governor doesn’t want coming over here.”
Wilson declined to release any information regarding the placement or number of what he characterized as “outdoor SWAT teams,” but said they were trained and equipped for “nighttime domination.”
“We want (smugglers) to be fearful that anytime they come over they could be running into a team,” he said.
Despite thousands of killings south of the Rio Grande, spillover violence has been minimal. The vast majority of American deaths in the drug war have occurred in Mexico.