EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Jackson County Sheriff A.J. “Andy” Louderback says his Coastal Bend community is geographically located in a warzone where Mexican drug cartel operatives and human smugglers are staging migrants, re-supplying criminal activities, and leading his deputies on bailouts and chases, unlike anything he’s seen in 20 years heading law enforcement in Texas.
His force consists of two deputies and one sergeant on duty at all times, but he told Border Report they’re outnumbered and often out-gunned as a recent influx of undocumented migrants crossing the South Texas border continues to be funneled northeast through his county of just 20,000 residents, located an hour-drive southwest of Houston and three hours from the border with Mexico.
“We’re in that mileage point where exchanges, stash houses, exchange of vehicles — those kind of things — are happening here. We are in a re-supply area,” Louderback told Border Report last week during an exclusive interview just moments before he answered questions for a GOP contingency of lawmakers from the House Judiciary Committee who held a roundtable discussion in the border town of Edinburg to assess the border situation.
Louderback was the only law enforcement official from a Texas municipality at the hour-long roundtable on April 7, and he fielded the most questions by far.
He said he represents law enforcement officials from a rural, seven-county corridor that spans north-to-northeast from the Texas-Mexico border, where drug cartels and human traffickers are a nightly presence as they try to move their loads to Houston.
The activity has led to two recent horrific vehicle crashes, Louderback said. One accident involved a dozen undocumented migrants, “two pulled from a burning vehicle as it drove into a herd of cattle, nearly missed a tree and it hit an oil and gas structure and caught fire,” he told Border Report.
“We’ve had just a real strong presence now for sure of cartel activity and cartel operation,” he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week released apprehension statistics for March that showed a 71% increase from February along the Southwest border, and a 100% increase in unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border from Mexico, most into South Texas. More than 172,000 migrants were arrested along the Southwest border, most from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
“Our resources, our assets are stretched thin,” said Louderback, who is in his fifth four-year term as sheriff for Jackson County, a primarily ranching, agriculture and oil and gas community in the Coastal Bend area. “No one has experienced a level so quick as what we’re experiencing now. This has been a ramp-up that is almost immediate. It’s planned. It’s strategic. It’s organized. It’s orchestrated. It is very very effective.”
The Jackson County seat is in the town of Edna, which has just 5,500 residents and is located near Lake Texana. It’s a rural county removed just far enough from the bigger city of Victoria, that Louderback says drug cartel operatives use it to stash migrants in houses and transfer migrants, who pay traffickers, or coyotes, upwards of $10,000 each to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico and be brought up from the Rio Grande Valley.
Most are headed to Houston, several law-enforcement and Border Patrol agents have told Border Report.
Louderback says Houston — the nation’s fourth-largest city — has long “been a hub” for illegal immigration and illegal narcotics. But now he says it is amped to levels he’s never before experienced.
Six counties southwest of Jackson County is Brooks County, where Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez told Border Report that his deputies also are regularly involved in high-speed chases with smugglers and “bailouts.”
He said smugglers ditch their vehicles and the migrants scatter into the brush as they try to avoid a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol checkpoint about 60 miles north of the South Texas border near the rural town of Falfurrias, Texas.
During a night ride along with a Brooks County deputy, Border Report witnessed ranch fences that have been crashed and livestock that escaped as a result of chases with cartel operatives.
Louderback said he often speaks with Martinez and they both are frustrated and fear for the safety of their residents and deputies.
Sixteen vehicles have been stolen in Jackson County in the past two months, Louderback said, adding that deputies have found several stolen vehicles, including several large trucks that have had their seats and interiors pulled out to transport more illegal immigrants.
“We have never seen it at the level we’re experiencing today. It’s by far the worst that we’ve ever had,” Louderback told the lawmakers on April 7. “Texas sheriffs here are now inundated with a crime problem we’ve not had before.”
The very day he testified before lawmakers, Louderback was among 275 sheriffs from across the United States who signed a letter to President Joe Biden urging the federal government secure the Southwest border.
“President Biden is knowingly and intentionally undermining America’s Sheriffs and our collaborative efforts with our local, state and federal public safety partners to enforce the rule of law,” said Bristol County (Mass.) Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who headed the letter-writing campaign. “He and the policies of his administration are placing our citizens, neighborhoods and our nation in public safety and public health danger.”
“The crisis at the border is penetrating our neighborhoods throughout the interior of the United States,” the letter to Biden read. “You must act now before our nation’s public safety resources are overwhelmed with the criminal side effects of unchecked illegal immigration, including transnational gangs, guns, dangerous drugs and human trafficking.”
The letter was signed by 40 other Texas sheriffs, and over a dozen sheriffs from the border states of Arizona, California and New Mexico. And it was backed on social media by Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Hodgson said on social media that the influx is hitting American sheriffs at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking lives and taxing first-responder resources.
Louderback said his small community has one 12-bed county hospital. “If anybody is seriously injured they’ll be sent to Houston or Victoria,” he said. “What’s all this doing to our healthcare system? These are all stretched resources that we don’t have that we have to supply due to a policy change.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com