(The Center Square) – At a border security summit hosted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Cochise, Arizona, where he announced a new strike force among sheriffs and law enforcement agencies, two Texas sheriffs shared the challenges they face resulting from Biden administration policies.
Terrell County Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland, a former Border Patrol agent of 26 years – ten years of which was spent in Arizona – described the change he's seen in just two years.
“I can tell you, at one point, it was chaos here [in Arizona],” he said. “But with the hard work of the men and women in U.S. Border Patrol, we had the safest, most secure border we'd ever had until two years ago. It took about six months to dismantle that safe and secure border.”
“It's not just the work of the United States Border Patrol that happens. It's our local law enforcement officers, our state resources also,” he continued. “I have a greater appreciation for what local law enforcement does, having been on this side now.”
He said Terrell County, with a population of barely 1,000, “has seen a 400% increase in apprehensions of illegal aliens, it's been that significant.” Cleveland said he'd arrested people from many states coming to Terrell County “to pick up illegal aliens,” including those he said “who were allowed into the United States under the bogus claim of political asylum or some other political relief.”
He's explained to The Center Square that illegal foreign nationals who've been released into the U.S. by the Biden administration, including single men from Cuba, Mexico and other countries, are sometimes smugglers working for the cartels to pick up people who've illegally entered between ports of entry, or “gotaways.” That term is commonly used to describe foreign nationals identified and reported by Border Patrol agents who illegally enter, don't return to Mexico, and successfully evade capture. At least 1.7 million gotaways have illegally entered the U.S. since January 2021, according to recent estimates. Law enforcement officials don't know who or where they are.
Terrell County Judge Dale Carruthers was one of the first of at least 42 Texas judges to declare an invasion at the border and in her county. She said the county had “experienced an invasion that is something of every language. We are trying to protect the sovereignty of Texas. I am a constitutional judge, and we are standing behind the Constitution.”
A lifelong Democrat, she also switched parties to become a Republican because of the border crisis and how it impacted her community.
The county shares 54 miles of river with Mexico and is northeast of the Big Bend Canyon range. Most people the sheriff, his deputy and Border Patrol agents apprehend in the remote and desolate county are single, military-age men wearing camouflage, officials have said. They are entering illegally and intentionally seeking to evade capture, often climbing through the canyon and walking across rugged terrain at night.
Cleveland told Gov. DeSantis, “without a doubt you are doing everything you can from the state of Florida for the state of Texas.”
In Collin County near Dallas, Sheriff Jim Skinner created a North Texas Criminal Interdiction Unit with seven other north Texas sheriffs. He said they have been working for at least five years to stem the flow of narcotics and weapons going south into Mexico and human trafficking into the north Texas area.
His county is the second fastest-growing county in the U.S., with 1.2 million residents. It's a major hub for cartel-related crime in the Dallas metropolitan area. As law enforcement officers have explained to The Center Square, cartels move people and drugs north and weapons, ammunition, cash and other contraband south.
In a few years, he said the interdiction unit seized $24 million in cartel cash, stockpiles of weapons headed south to Mexico and $154 million in narcotics.
But, he said Collin County has suffered something even worse, “a 1320% increase in fentanyl deaths.”
“Why is that?” he asked. “Because of the tsunami of death and destruction that flows unimpeded across our southern border that the Sinaloan and New Generation cartels push into this country,” he said.
Last September, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott designated them as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and 20 other attorneys general this February called on the president to do the same. Gov. Abbott has also done the same more than once.
The fentanyl deaths and increased cartel crime in north Texas, Skinner said, is “also because [President] Joe Biden and his administration have abdicated their responsibility to secure our southern border.” He said sheriffs he's met with nationwide “like me … are heartbroken by the number of parents of young people they've met with and heard the death of their children through fentanyl poisonings.
“We're not giving up hope. Us sheriffs all working together in this country are proof and evidence of that.”
Appearing to hold back tears, he said, “as bad as things are right now, there are real leaders in this country that are making a difference. I'm proud of my governor, Gov. Greg Abbott, because he's done what's necessary to protect Texans.”
Turning to Gov. Ron DeSantis, he said, “I'm really proud of you because not only are you willing to protect the people in Florida, but you'll send your people to Texas and help protect Texans. Says a lot about you.”