I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry when I hear Washington politicians arguing whether or not the number of migrants crossing our southern border has reached the point of “crisis.”
I know there’s a crisis. We are living it, every single day.
By way of introduction, I have served as the elected sheriff of Val Verde County, Texas, for the past 12 years. Before that, I served in local law enforcement for 30 years, mostly in Val Verde County.
For the record — not that it matters — I am a proud Democrat.
Val Verde County is massive: 3,200 square miles located just east of the Big Bend and roughly 150 miles west of San Antonio. We share 110 miles of border with the Mexican state of Coahuila.
In all my 42 years here, I have never seen so many migrants risking their lives to cross the Rio Grande as in the past couple of months.
Death and deportation
Our sheriff’s office generally consists of just four patrol deputies per shift — for all 2 million acres and all 110 miles of border. It can become overwhelming pretty quick.
ITEM: My deputies fished the body of a young Cuban male out of the Rio Grande, identifying him by the passport in his pocket. He likely traveled with another person, but that individual has yet to turn up.
ITEM: Unlike those from Central and South America who turn themselves in with hopes of proving claims of asylum, Mexican nationals are subject to immediate deportation at the nearest point of entry and so are more likely to evade capture. Earlier this month, a Mexican national was killed when the driver of a vehicle failed to yield, rolling the vehicle over and ejecting the deceased. A week later, eight Mexican nationals were killed in a high-speed chase that ended in a head-on collision, leaving two U.S. citizens in critical but stable condition, one being an 11-year-old girl.
ITEM: We were called to recover the remains of a Haitian woman, whose body was located on the American side of the river. She was pregnant with twins, and her pregnancy was at term. Her husband’s body was found nearby, on the Mexican side.
ITEM: Three of my four deputies spent more than half of their workday detaining 54 South Americans who had turned themselves in. They held the group until Border Patrol arrived, leaving just one deputy to serve the entire county for several hours. On this event, 75% of my resources were used to support the United States Border Patrol.
Besides lacking adequate police resources to protect our community given the current situation, we have no real transportation system to move these individuals once they are released by Border Patrol.
Filibuster:I’m finally done with the Senate filibuster. We’re running out of time to save democracy.
Our community lacks the transportation infrastructure and resources to house these individuals overnight if needed. Right now, the city of Del Rio is loaning two buildings to a small local volunteer group where the migrants can be fed, cared for and helped to make connections to relatives or friends at their chosen destinations. If overnight accommodation are required, the city is forced to man the area with either a police officer or fireman, tying up those resources.
This unprecedented tide of migration started just a few days before Jan. 20, when migrants, along with everybody else, realized that the United States was about to become lax with the immigration policy.
If Washington lawmakers could see what I see everyday
Prior to the beginning of the year, our deputies were involved in assisting Border Patrol two or three times a month. Now, it happens four or five times a day, around the clock.
I wish I could invite Washington decision-makers to Val Verde County — and not just for a photo opportunity.
If they could stay a few days and see the madness and mayhem going on right now, there’d be no more wasting time trying to decide whether the border situation is a “crisis” or not.
Strategy at the border:Cruelty at the border is not the same as strength or an effective immigration strategy
If they could have witnessed my deputies pull a full-term pregnant woman’s body out of the Rio Grande, maybe they could put their differences aside.
If they could watch the asylum seekers as they challenge the dangerous undertow of the Rio Grande, they’d realize that the years of foot-dragging must come to an end.
If they could see not only what my deputies live with every day, but also what all border communities deal with on a daily basis, maybe they would put their egos and ambitions aside and find common ground toward a comprehensive solution to immigration reform.
Joe Frank Martinez, a Democrat, is the elected sheriff of Val Verde County, Texas.