FALFURRIAS, Texas–The remnants of a mass grave–where the remains of unidentified illegal immigrants were recently exhumed–revealed that more bodies had been buried in the graves than had previously been reported. For more than 20 years this cemetery has been the final resting place for many illegal immigrants who die in the hot desolate ranch lands that must be traversed in their journey from the Rio Grande Valley to the human trafficking hub of Houston. Now, the numbers have grown so large the county faces a budgetary crisis on top of the humanitarian crisis.
The small South Texas town of Falfurrias is not located near the U.S./Mexico border. In fact it is close to seventy-five miles away. Yet, the deaths of these illegal immigrants has placed a financial burden on the county that leaves the citizens of this large county virtually unprotected by local law enforcement.
Breitbart Texas spoke with Brooks County Deputy Sheriff Luis Reyes, a five year veteran of the local department. Reyes revealed the cost to the citizens of his county for each immigrant death is approximately $2,500. During last year’s “peak season” (June through October) the intense heat claimed the lives of about 120 immigrants, many of whom were women and children. The places the burial cost to the county at about $300,000.
According to Deputy Reyes, the $2,500 cost is split three ways: $1,500 for medical examiner costs, $500 for the funeral home’s services and $500 for the cemetery costs.
Because of the county’s distance from the border, it does not receive many of the federal funds from programs that are available to border counties. Furthermore, Brooks County is one of the few South Texas counties that does not have significant tax revenue from the oil and gas industry. “The $300,000 financial impact hits the county very hard,” Reyes stated.
Deputy Reyes explained the because of pay cuts and lack of health insurance from the county, many deputies have quit the department in search of greener paychecks. The department which services almost 1,000 square miles (nearly the size of Rhode Island) is now patrolled by four deputies. On most nights that means one sheriff’s deputy per shift. Reyes performs his duties for a now reduced salary of $25,000 per year, with no health insurance.
He explained the immigrants are dropped off by the human smugglers at the southern end of the county–below the Border Patrol checkpoint on I-69–and forced to take what can be up to a three day trek to be picked up, if they make it, on a road north of the checkpoint. Reyes said a television crew tried this hike a few weeks ago using known smuggling routes. The journey took three days.
Most immigrants are dropped off with one gallon of water and very little food. Reyes explained the coyotes want their human cargo to travel light. As they are paid in advance for their services, coyotes are motivated by speed of travel and not by how many immigrants complete the journey. Reyes said that as soon as one of them falls behind because of dehydration, weakness or injury, they are abandoned and left to die.
To complicate matters, in some parts of the county, the soil becomes a very soft sandy mixture. The sand is so soft many of the department’s four-wheel drive vehicles get stuck while driving in this region. This makes the hike by the immigrants slower and much more strenuous.
Reyes said he was out on patrol last week with a television news crew. While on patrol, they received a call for service from a rancher who had found the body of a 20-year-old woman on his land. She had no visible wounds indicating assault. “It appears she just fell behind and died from dehydration,” Reyes said. “Often times, the immigrants are not dressed properly for the long hike. We regularly find bodies wearing regular street shoes or tennis shoes with no ankle support.”
Reyes said the 120 bodies found by ranchers or border patrol in the open fields is a small percentage of the estimated number of actual deaths in the county. “We think that one out of ten are actually found,” Reyes said. “Often, the ones that are found have been out in the sun so long, the bones are picked clean and bleached white.” This means there could be as many as 1,200 deaths in this one county alone.
From a law enforcement perspective, Reyes said their situation is so desperate that many local police officers perform volunteer extra-duty shifts to supplement the four paid deputies. These “free officers” come from the local school district police or some of the city police departments in the county.
In addition to deaths from exposure and hiking injuries, the human trafficking victims also face deadly danger from bandits that roam the area preying for these groups. “When the bandits find the trafficking victims,” Reyes explained, “they rob the men and often rape the women.”
Local residents are also faced with the dangers from the smugglers. Police chases often end with the trafficker crashing his vehicle through a rancher’s fence. “The vehicle’s occupants and driver then scatter in every direction,” he said. “Replacing the fences is expensive to the ranchers and, if cattle escape onto the roadways, residents are put in danger.”
One glimmer of hope for the county’s budget recently surfaced in the form of a traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of an alleged cartel member from Chicago who was hauling $450,000 in cash back to Mexico. “The deputy who made the stop,” Reyes explained, “might not have conducted the search and made the find were it not for the fact he had one of the ‘volunteer’ deputies as a backup. The extra help gave him a little extra time for interrogation during the traffic stop.”
Reyes said the suspect’s answers about an old style “big box CRT” television became suspiciously vague and contradictory. Reyes explained smugglers are known to use the CRT televisions because the cabinet lining used to shield RF radiation, also shields the contents from x-ray inspection. The deputy plugged the TV into an AC/DC power converter and it would not power on. When the suspected responded that he purchased the TV for a dollar at a flea market, the deputy became more suspicious. A more detailed search revealed the cash stashed inside the CRT tube.
If the county’s forfeiture charges on the money are sustained, some of the money might go to help pay the deputies’ health insurance and restore their pay to its original levels. Reyes explained the forfeited money would be split with the local district attorney’s office.
Some of the ranchers in the county have also made donations of four-wheel drive patrol vehicles to help the county through its financial woes.
In the meantime, the bodies continue to pile up in Brooks County as new discoveries are made nearly every week. Every body found represents more than a month’s salary of a deputy who could be on patrol defending these Texas citizens.
Bob Price is a staff writer and a member of the original Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX.