RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (Border Report) — The massive presence of state police patrolling rural Starr County to thwart what the governor of Texas calls an immigration “crisis,” has recently diminished as troopers are being relocated to other parts of the border.
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera told Border Report on Tuesday that 65% of the Department of Public Safety troopers Gov. Greg Abbott recently sent to this South Texas county as part of Operation Lone Star have been sent to Del Rio — some 280 miles northwest.
Vera says this is a relief to residents who felt burdened by the massive number of troopers. Thirty-five percent still remain and can be seen in this border county that has but one major thoroughfare.
“There are still quite a few but I think the numbers that we now have is certainly a lot better for our community,” Vera told Border Report from his office in Rio Grande City on Tuesday.
The numbers (of troopers) that we now have is certainly a lot better for our community.”Starr County Judge Eloy Vera
Abbott on March 9 traveled to Mission, Texas, and announced that he was sending 500 troopers to the Rio Grande Valley region where thousands of migrants are crossing the river daily by paying thousands of dollars to coyotes, or human traffickers. He later said he had doubled that number to 1,000 troopers sent to the region.
But the overwhelming number of troopers caused strife among area residents, who openly complained about them, Vera said.
“We certainly believe in securing the border and having law enforcement, but there is such a thing as overkill, and that’s what we had here a few weeks ago. You couldn’t drive down Highway 83 without encountering a DPS unit every 100 yards or two or three parked on the side of the road,” Vera said. “That was disturbing a lot of our residents because of the number of citations that were given.”
A total of 1,000 state troopers were sent to the Rio Grande Valley, many took part in Gov. Abbott’s March 9, 2021, announcement of Operation Lone Start in Mission, Texas. (Border Report File Photos/Sandra Sanchez)
Motorists in this county — which is the second-poorest in the state of Texas — were fearful to leave their homes and to receive costly speeding tickets or infractions for having a missing tail light on the many “older model cars” that frequent the roads here, Vera said. Consequently, he said that many businesses suffered because folks weren’t eating out, or out spending money.
The build-up is similar to a massive surge of state troopers that Abbott also sent to the Rio Grande Valley region a few years ago during a previous uptick in migrants crossing the border from Mexico. But this time, Vera said he felt his county was unfairly targeted and he did not understand the need for concentrating so many DPS units within this 40-mile-wide county and primarily along one highway.
“We’re not saying that they shouldn’t do it but they shouldn’t single out one county to enforce the law above all others,” said Vera, who has led this county for the past 23 years.
The county is already hurting economically from the coronavirus pandemic and Title 42 border restrictions that remain in effect and prevent non-essential travelers from crossing at land ports. Many families in Starr County have relatives in the neighboring cities of Miguel Alemán, across from the city of Roma, Texas, and in Ciudad Camargo, across the Rio Grande from Rio Grande City.
“We’ll be curious to see what kind of impact their presence has in Del Rio. We know here we absolutely had an increase in citations,” said Rose Benavidez, president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports local government and efforts to boost economic development in this rural ranching and farming county of 67,000 residents.
“But we’re hopeful that they’re a great asset in the community of Del Rio,” she said.
Border Report has reached out to DPS officials and asked if and why the troopers have been relocated. This story will be updated if information is received.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.