by Bethany Blankley
What’s happening at the southern U.S. border with Mexico is in fact an invasion, Kinney County Sheriff Brad Coe says.
“We’re experiencing a silent invasion of military age men,” Coe told The Center Square when describing what his deputies have been increasingly facing over the past two years.
He spoke with The Center Square during an Operation Lone Star task force multi-day operation during which law enforcement officers rescued foreign nationals from a burning vehicle and revived a five-year-old girl being smuggled who’d been stashed inside of a car’s trunk.
The “silent invasion,” Coe said, is being committed primarily by single, military age men between the ages of 17 and 45 who are illegally entering the U.S. They’re wearing camouflage and carrying backpacks, according to video captured by cameras placed throughout the county viewed by The Center Square. Many are armed and dangerous, committing robberies and engaging in shootouts with law enforcement, Coe said.
The men are believed to be working or associated with Mexican cartels. Once they arrive in major U.S. cities, they are embedded with gangs and or cartel affiliates acting like a “Trojan horse,” Coe said. “They set up in our cities, take over through voting and or crime, and scare the local people who move out. It’s happening in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio,” he said, where crime has also exponentially increased over the last few years.
He said, “You can win a lot of battles without getting violent,” referring to the “silent invasion” as an act of war against the U.S. by Mexican cartels.
Coe last month sent out an SOS asking for help from other counties to apprehend human smugglers in his small border county of roughly 3,000 people. In response, law enforcement officers from 20 agencies participated in a days-long operation during which The Center Square participated in a ridealong.
As soon as the task force got started, officers were engaged in smuggling pursuits. He said, “the more people we have, the more effective we’ll be” at pushing smugglers and gotaways “out of the area.” Gotaways are those who illegally enter the U.S., don’t request asylum or make other immigration claims, and intentionally evade capture.
A retired Border Patrol agent, Coe took office Jan 1, 2017, and says he’s never seen what’s he seeing now in his entire life. Things first started getting bad after President Joe Biden altered border security and immigration policies, and have only gotten worse since, he said.
In 2022, for example, his deputies made 877 arrests, filing 3,057 felony charges. Of all the criminal cases filed that year, 927 were immigration-related involving illegal foreign nationals or smugglers, he said.
While these numbers are unprecedented, the number of people who got away are even greater. Detected on cameras making their way through the county on foot, nearly 21,500 foreign nationals were detected but weren’t apprehended last year. That’s at least seven times the size of the county’s population. Their whereabouts are currently unknown.
“The other unknown,” he said, “is what’s not on camera. You might see two or three are on camera but shadows are also visible indicating there are more people behind them. The camera only shows the 2 to 3 people.”
In 2022, Kinney County Sheriff’s deputies apprehended 3,192 illegal foreign nationals compared to the 1,124 they apprehended in 2021, according to the sheriff’s data.
In 2022, they apprehended 741 smugglers compared to 169 in 2021, Coe said, as he went through the data with The Center Square.
His deputies engaged in 139 pursuits and 136 bailouts in 2022 compared to 61 pursuits and 56 bailouts in 2021.
In 2022, they impounded 580 vehicles compared to 179 in 2021.
In 2022, deputies also seized 89 firearms carried by alleged smugglers, including some that were stolen, up from 29 in 2021.
Despite increased resources and funding through Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star, apprehensions and crime continue to escalate, Coe said.
So far in 2023, their efforts and the stats are already breaking last year’s records across the board, he said. At least 6,600 illegal foreign nationals have been captured on cameras crossing through the county on foot, he said. “That’s an average of 150 a day. These are people who aren’t being caught,” he added.
His deputies already have apprehended 398 illegal foreign nationals and 96 alleged smugglers so far this year. They’ve also engaged in nearly 30 vehicle pursuits, including 27 bailouts, nearly all involving human smugglers, he said.
The majority of the alleged smugglers they’re catching are men from Houston between the ages of 17 and 25. Earlier this month they apprehended a 14-year-old who evaded arrest driving a stolen car, he said.
The overwhelming majority of alleged smugglers they’re arresting are U.S. citizens responding to social media ads hoping to make several thousand dollars per load. Those caught include a licensed security guard, attorneys, couples, and teenagers, Coe said.
Americans are coming to Kinney County from all over the U.S. Initially, they were from Oklahoma and Louisiana; now they’re also coming from Georgia, California, New York, and New Jersey, he said.
Their efforts would be severely limited were it not for support from the state, he said. “We couldn’t do what we’re doing without Operation Lone Star. Our county attorney handled 4-5 cases a month. Now it’s 150 every time we have court and we have court four times a week. We used to have district court once a month, now it’s 100 cases every time. The jury pool is busy, and we may end up with two grand juries to convene every other week.”
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Bethany Blankley is a regular contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “Sheriff Brad Coe” by Kinney County Sheriff’s Office.