BROOKS COUNTY, Texas (Border Report) — Prolonged extreme heat in deep South Texas this month has killed at least one migrant and is even prompting coyotes to adjust how they smuggle migrants through, Border Report has learned.
The Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday had its ninth consecutive day under an “extreme heat” warning, which has led to several record-high temperatures.
In rural Brooks County, temperatures hit 106 degrees with a heat index of 115, according to the National Weather Service.
“The heat wave has been extremely unbearable,” Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez told Border Report on Wednesday. “We picked up what I refer to as a full body just yesterday, which is the first one.”
That means the body was intact with all its limbs, he explained. Most times they find migrant remains they aren’t whole, he said.
The body found Tuesday was the 22nd set of migrant remains found in this rural ranching county about 70 miles north of the Mexican border.
Brooks County has been the deadliest for migrant remains in all of the Southwest because migrants must find a way to get around a heavily staffed Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, in order to get to points north like San Antonio or Houston.
In 2021, Brooks County set a record with 119 migrant deaths.
Most migrants die from dehydration and exposure to the harsh elements here. Some are hurt, and others are lost or left behind by smugglers, Martinez says.
But the recent extreme heat has even affected smuggling routes and tactics, Martinez says. Instead of making them trudge through this county’s thick brush, more undocumented migrants are being driven through, and that has resulted in more high-speed chases and bailouts, and lots of property damage to ranchers, he said.
“The issue we’re having now is they’re driving the group through in vehicles without having them walk anymore,” Martinez said. “They’re driving them through and we got more fence damage now.”
“They’re cutting the fences and cutting the locks,” in order to short-cut north around the checkpoint, Martinez says. “They’re doing both and they’re filtering through so it’s difficult.”
Dr. Mike Vickers, a veterinarian, says he has incurred over $40,000 in damage from human smugglers charging through the fences of his three South Texas ranches this year.
He says he and others have taken matters into their own hands.
Vickers, 73, is chairman of the Texas Border Volunteers, a nonprofit group with 300 members who come from South Texas and several other states to help patrol these rural parts and notify Border Patrol and law enforcement when they see what they call illegal activity.
“It’s become quite a problem here,” said Vickers, who on Aug. 3 will celebrate his 50th year practicing veterinary medicine. “Probably over half of my clients have been forced to leave their ranch because of the smuggling; they feel threatened, the eminent threat of danger and they’ve moved to McAllen or Corpus Christi, San Antonio or even farther north.”
He says he feels like the federal government doesn’t care that people in Brooks County don’t feel safe in their own homes, or that property values have dropped because of the dangers of living here.
“Because of the smuggling through their ranches, they can’t even sell it,” he said.
Vickers met with Border Report on Wednesday near his ranch at his clinic, the Las Palmas Veterinary Hospital, located about 4 miles north of the checkpoint on Highway 281.
A couple of weeks ago, he says, he found a teenager on his ranch. The boy said he had been left by smugglers — called coyotes — and said he hadn’t eaten in days.
“All this smuggling and open-border stuff and all this criminal element coming through private property is having a huge negative impact on ranchers and farmers who live in the rural areas,” Vickers said.
“And despite the heat they’re still coming,” he said. “They’re still paying criminal organizations to bring them in here. The guys bringing them in are gang members. We’ve got pistoleros, Mexican mafia, we’ve got MS-13. All these different groups align with the Gulf Cartel or the Zetas or some of these other newer cartel groups that have shown up and they bring these people through and they bring the drugs through.”
The National Weather Service predicts temperatures in Brooks County will remain above 106 degrees through June 28.