Kerr County Sheriff Larry Leitha and his Chief Deputy Cris Lalonde have first-hand experience working Texas border towns during migrant surges and say what they are seeing today is cause for concern for them.
“We’re keeping an eye on the situation,” Leitha said. “I feel we might have a problem in our country and I don’t want those problems to reach Kerr County.”
As retired Texas Department of Public Safety officers, both men were deployed during their tenure to assist U.S. Customs & Border Patrol officers during past surges.
“We were there, on and off, for three years,” Leitha said.
While deployed to the border in service to DPS, both men said their jobs were to assist in locating immigrants attempting to enter the country illegally and help border patrol agents get them processed.
“They (migrants) were looking for us,” Lalonde said. “They would come right up to you, because they knew once they were processed, they would be released into the country.”
The key, Leitha said, is that in the past the goal was to identify those entering the country and deport or detain anyone with criminal record. All others seeking asylum from their native country were given court dates to appear for asylum hearings.
“Right now, the numbers of people coming over are overwhelming border patrol and we are hearing they (asylum seekers) are being released with no court date,” Leitha said. “If this is true, we don’t know who is entering the our country. They could be MS-13 gang members, Middle Eastern terrorists, human traffckers or drug smugglers.”
Lalonde said law enforcement is taking its lead from federal officials and how migrants are handled is dictated by the existing federal policy issued by President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Asylum seekers are not who we are worried about,” Lalonde said. “They are seeking a better life and will go straight to the processing center. Who we are worried about are those that come in the dark of night and avoid officials at the border.”
By not checking in with officials as they cross the border, migrant individuals are unknown to law enforcement, which presents potential danger to communities and citizens.
“We don’t want to cause them any trouble, we just want them identified,” Lalonde said. “We need to make sure they are not criminals or wanted elsewhere for crimes, but it is usually those individuals that will avoid being processed.”
Criminals, Leitha said, are definitely making their way into the country, as well to Kerr County even prior to the current border-surge crisis.
The Kerr County Sheriff’s Office is housing 10 individuals in the Kerr County Jail on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds that were issued prior to the change in federal policy and before the current surge.
“These (inmates) are immigrants who have committed crimes in Kerr County,” Leitha said. “Those crimes range from drug possession to one sexual assault of a child, to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, as well as intoxication manslaughter.”
Leitha said the current ICE detainees will be held until turned over the federal government or taken to trial.
“Under President Trump, these individuals would be deported,” Lalonde said. “We are currently waiting to hear how the Biden Administration will instruct us to handle these individuals. We are hoping they will not be released once they have served their time for state crimes.”
The intoxication manslaughter suspect, Ivan Robles-Navejas, 29, is facing multiple charges of intoxicated manslaughter and intoxicated assault with a vehicle after his vehicle struck and killed four members of the Thin Blue Line Motorcycle Club and injured seven others on July 18, 2020.
“It’s not about politics, for me or any law enforcement officer,” Leitha said. “But with these numbers of people flooding to the Texas-Mexico border, there are bad guys taking advantage of the situation. I definitely see crime rates increasing.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported that 9,460 unaccompanied minors and more than 19,240 family units have been apprehended or surrendered from March 1 to March 10, which is a 62 percent and 38 percent increase, respectively when compared to January’s numbers.
Facilities in Carrizo Springs, Dallas, Midland and two in San Antonio have been created to help house the unaccompanied minors, but organizations such as Catholic Charities Community Services are begging for volunteers to assist the thousands of children being held.
Just 45 miles west on Interstate 10, the Junction Police Department and Kimble County Sheriff’s Office have reported incidents involving “undocumented aliens.”
“Most people have heard and or have talked about it. The Junction Police Department along with Kimble County Sheriffs Office and state and federal agencies were looking for 13 undocumented aliens yesterday. DPS had a vehicle pursuit that ended up in Kimble County and all 13 undocumented aliens that were in the vehicle fled on foot. Most all the undocumented aliens were found. During the search for the 13 undocumented aliens, the Junction Police located five more undocumented aliens in the city and arrested all five. Shortly after that DPS located a truck on the interstate and located three more undocumented aliens and arrested them,” a JPD social media post read.
Almost immediately, a response from the League of United Latin American Citizens decried the efforts of JPD, Kimble County SO and federal officials for profiling hispanics.
“Our job is to protect and serve and uphold state laws,” Leitha said. “Which includes keeping criminals off the streets, no matter what their nationality is. We can’t do our jobs if we cannot identify who is crossing that border. That’s what people need to understand. We are not profiling anyone, but we are trying to identify everyone.”
Lalonde said citizens should not frightened, but should be observant.
“Look for things like groups of people traveling together on the interstate,” Lalonde said. “If you see something like that, report it.”
As law enforcement officers, both Leitha and Lalonde agreed that chaos on the border is not safe for anyone.
“It’s not safe for those people traveling for days on foot to get here and it’s not safe for American citizens when we can’t confirm who is entering our country,” Leitha said. “Whether you like him or not, under President Trump, we could handle the border situation. I can’t say that today.”