Illegal Immigrant Loaded Vehicles Race Through Town

By ABE LEVY
Associated Press Writer

SARCO, Texas — Acres of South Texas ranch land used to insulate this tiny, rural corner of Goliad County from the disruptions of the Mexican border 200 miles away.

In recent months, however, illegal immigrants have been pouring into the community, worrying many of the 40 residents and prompting some to join up with the controversial civilian border patrol group known as the Minuteman Project.

Immigrant smugglers have found the area’s secluded bridges and dry riverbeds ideal drop-off points. The county also offers distance from border checkpoints, overworked law enforcement and easy access to jobs in San Antonio, Victoria, Corpus Christi or Houston.

No major crimes have been reported, but residents have stepped up calls of suspicious activity to sheriff’s deputies already weighted down with escalating arrests countywide. Among the chief complaints are immigrant-loaded vehicles racing through town.

“You used to be able to walk down the road for exercise or a child could ride a bike,” said Sarco landowner Bill Parmley. “Now it’s just like the Indianapolis 500.”

Immigrant arrests are on pace to pass last year’s total by at least 20,000 in the 19-county U.S. Border Patrol district that includes Goliad, according to the agency. Arrests include people from 62 countries and could double the 26,438 from last year.

The problem is illustrated by the Goliad County Sheriff’s Department impound lot. In January it held a few vehicles seized in immigration cases. Today it holds more than 50.

Sheriff Robert DeLaGarza has 13 deputies to patrol a 1,000-square-mile county, and the increase in immigration activity, he said, is “just overwhelming.”

While some Hispanic residents said the problem is exaggerated, other residents describe worrisome encounters.

A woman and her grandson spotted several men believed to be immigrants bathing in a creek, said Sarco resident Kenneth Buelter, a supporter of the Minutemen. Another resident answered a knock on her door to find two men looking tired from long travels and requesting food and water. She called authorities and they were arrested, Buelter said.

Tire tracks are still visible in a right of way near Buelter’s house, he said, from a truck speeding and believed to be carrying about 15 illegal immigrants.

A couple miles away, several abandoned encampments still sit in a dry riverbed. Ripped up trash bags, gallon jugs of water and jackets lie in a heavily wooded area. The Mexico border seems closer to home than ever, Sarco residents said.

Buelter is among the residents planning to travel to the border in October to patrol with the Minutemen, the volunteer group that drew national attention by patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border.

The sheriff “has done everything they can to help us,” Buelter said. “Now it’s someone else’s turn to help.”

Goliad County has become an unofficial Texas headquarters for the Minuteman Project. Some residents welcome the volunteers. But their recent visit to set up chapter groups has also revived racial tensions in an area where Mexican forces famously killed Texas revolutionaries nearly 170 years ago.

“I don’t want terrorists coming over here and bombing our town, but you can’t hardly blame the Hispanic population because they’ve been so mistreated so many times before,” said Benny Martinez, president of the local League of United Latin American Citizens.

The Minutemen met last week with more than 100 ranchers and other residents in Goliad and got their first warm reception in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry, several lawmakers and local law enforcement have expressed skepticism about the group’s efforts.

While he vows not to endorse the Minuteman Project, DeLaGarza welcomes the help if volunteers only report to police what they see.

“We’re going to step back, watch and learn,” DeLaGarza said. “So far, they haven’t broken any laws. They’ve been very helpful and informative.”

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