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Counties Hundreds Of Miles From The Border Issue Copy/Paste ‘Disaster Declarations’ Over Migrant Crossings

Asylum-seeking migrants make their way to surrender to U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico, in Roma, Texas, U.S., April 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Asylum-seeking migrants make their way to surrender to U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico, in Roma, Texas, U.S., April 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Atascosa County declared on Wednesday a local disaster declaration over unauthorized migrants crossing into the state.

Framing it as an invasion, Judge Robert Hurley originally said in his declaration that authorities were overwhelmed and county residents had suffered property damage, robberies and threats of violence.

Then they backtracked.

Residents alarmed by the declaration reached out, and county officials admitted there were “no known issues” in Atascosa, which is 100 miles from the Texas-Mexico border.

In Goliad — nearly 200 miles from the Texas border — they issued the same declaration nearly verbatim.

“This continual violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity has resulted in residents of Goliad County being assaulted, threatened with violence, and robbed, while also sustaining vast amounts of property damage,” read the declaration.

In a companion public letter, the Goliad County Sheriff cited multiple examples of the activity, none of which included Goliad residents being threatened with violence, assaulted or sustaining “vast amounts of property damage.”

In one example, they highlighted the discovery of the body of a woman who they believed was smuggled into the country and the discovery of a stolen truck at a location they believe connected to smuggling.

A post on the Atascosa County Facebook page said they made the declaration at the request of Kinney County. In fact, Kinney County — which is on the border — had provided the language.

“They're coming through and they're cutting your game fences,” said Kinney County Judge Tully Shahan, who also declared the local disaster on Wednesday. “They're coming through and they're leaving gates open. They're coming through and they're draining your water lines.”

Shahan noted an attempted ATV theft and a Brackettville tire shop employee who pulled a gun when a suspected migrant refused to leave his shop. He also noted a number of hunters' cabins broken into in Kinney and neighboring Maverick County. The rural area is a destination for hunters.

“Because of all of the above. We just felt like we needed to make a statement as to what's happening here,” Shahan said.

He said the federal government doesn’t have enough resources in the area to assist them currently.

“We’re overwhelmed,” he said.

Shahan said he sent his declaration to other counties, and he expected others to follow his lead. As of Thursday, April 23, TPR found the declaration in the border counties of Teller and Kinney along with Goliad and Atascosa, which are far from the border region.

Border crossings along the southern border in March were at the highest level in 15 years.

Dating back to July 2020, several migrant deaths have occurred in Kinney County. High speed pursuits of suspected smugglers resulted in a rollover that year that killed two migrants. In March, a chase reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph ended in downtown Brackettville. The passengers of the car fled on foot, some crossing in front of the county courthouse.

Last month, a human smuggler trying to evade federal authorities in Val Verde County crossed into oncoming traffic and crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Eight migrants were killed.

Over the past 22 years, at least 3,253 people died after crossing the border and moving through South Texas, according to a 2020 Strauss Center report.

The seven-day disaster declaration requests additional state law enforcement as well as military forces to preserve “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.”

The strong language and invasion verbiage are in line with other far-right rhetoric around border crossings, as are the references to disease-bearing immigrants.

“The public health and safety of the residents of Kinney, et al county is under imminent threat of disaster …” from coronavirus variants that the declaration believed may exist among those crossing the border.

Gov. Greg Abbott made similar comments about migrants spreading COVID-19 in March.

Yet the governor lifted the ability of local governments to have mask mandates — overriding those in Harris and Bexar County, but Kinney County never had one.

“We've never had a mask mandate, we highly recommended it. For months and months and months, we have had zero cases,” Shahan said.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org