CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Congressman who represents a large portion of the Coastal Bend wrapped up a three day tour of the Texas-Mexico border on Thursday to examine what some people are calling a crisis brought on by illegal immigration and human smuggling.
The situation even prompted Governor Greg Abbott to recently declare a disaster for the border region.
“I’m thankful that the governor declared this a disaster," Texas District 27 Rep. Michael Cloud said. "It certainly is. Texans have known this for quite awhile. This ought to free up some state resources to help address something that really ought to be a federal responsibility.”
Cloud was accompanied by other lawmakers and a couple of South Texas sheriffs as they visited the checkpoint in Falfurrias, the Donna Facility where migrants are processed before being sent to detention centers, and other locations.
Refugio County Sheriff Pinky Gonzalez did not take part in Cloud's tour, but he says he's visited the border several times.
He says the problems communities there experience are also felt in his community -- and it's getting worse.
"We’ve been dealing with illegal immigration for years and years, but it seems like we’ve never dealt with illegal immigration like we have the past five, going on six months," Gonzales said. "We have noticed that these human smugglers and even the illegal immigrants have gotten a lot more aggressive than in previous years."
Highway 77, which runs directly through Refugio County, connects Mexico and Houston, and Gonzales says smugglers using the route leads to a number of problems.
His deputies routinely have to chase down smugglers at high speeds, and he says they also steal trucks and guns.
Gonzales estimates his office has handled around 100 criminal cases involving smugglers or illegal immigrants since mid-January, and it's taking a toll financially.
“Not only has it been affecting our community as far as safety, it’s been affecting us budget-wise," he said. "We’re just not budgeted for these types of issues."
Other South Texas lawmen told Cloud similar stories from their communities during the border-tour.
Cloud hopes that by hearing those stories and getting a first-hand look at the situation along the border, he'll be able to bring about positive change.
“We brought some sheriffs with us who are dealing first-hand with what the cartel influence is having -- the corrupting influence they’re having with increasing crime and everything throughout our district — throughout this south Texas region," Cloud said. "It’s devastating.”