Starr County, one of the poorest in Texas, has turned down state financial assistance to help stanch the surge of illegal aliens crossing the Rio Grande.
Refusing to declare a border emergency, County Judge Eloy Vera worries instead that jailing criminal migrants would cost Starr millions of dollars in federal contracts.
“We only have 270 beds, of which we lease out to the feds and neighboring counties quite a few. And we receive around $3-$3.5 million annually, from these leases. If we fill them with our local prisoners, that goes to zero,” Vera said.
Vera’s reasoning strikes more Starr County residents as absurd, since local officials, by refusing to declare a border emergency, are foregoing Operation Lone Star (OLS) grants to fund additional jail space and law-enforcement resources. Residents marvel that Wilson County, two hours north of the border, recently received $400,000 in OLS funds while Starr didn’t even apply.
“The public’s attitude is changing here,” Dina Garcia-Peña told FAIR in an interview. “When you have 300 people crossing over the river in a single day can we really say there’s not a problem? It feels like an invasion.”
Garcia-Peña, who runs the local news page El Tejano on Facebook, reports that Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers arrest the vast majority of human traffickers and criminal aliens in the county.
Though Vera complains that DPS’s presence is “unnecessary” and somehow hampers economic development, state troopers boost business at local restaurants and fill hotels to capacity every night.
Yvette Hernandez, a local businesswoman, denounces Vera’s claim as “hypocritical” and “untrue.”
“It’s a drug lord mentality” that rationalizes and accepts cross-border criminal enterprises, she told FAIR.
While other South Texas counties have sent more than 1,000 criminal aliens to recently opened state detention centers, Starr and the larger downriver counties of Hidalgo (McAllen) and Cameron (Brownsville) have yet to refer a single offender.
Meantime, car chases, roadside bailouts and even gunfire from across the Rio Grande terrorize Starr communities. It is no coincidence that the highest crime zones are clustered around the county’s narrow river crossings.
If Judge Vera got serious about leveraging state laws and OLS programs to arrest and detain illegal aliens, would migrants keep coming to Starr County in droves? Might this desperately poor county find that enhancing public safety is, in fact, the essential building block for both social order and civic prosperity?