Greg Abbott Changing Texas Law Could ‘Cripple’ Border County

A Texas judge who supports state lawmakers’ intentions to enforce their own illegal immigration protocols, warned on Monday about the lack of funding and infrastructure presently available in her small community.

Texas’ southern border crossings from migrants increased from 1.05 million in fiscal year 2021 to 1.33 million and 1.31 million in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, according to federal data. Between October and January of the current fiscal year, there were about 472,800 illegal encounters, though numbers dropped between January to February by 81,987.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and dozens of statewide conservatives continue to push towards a legal decision in their favor on Senate Bill 4 (S.B. 4), which would allow Texas officials to make their own arrests, detainments and deportations sans the federal government. Last Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Texas’ request to allow S.B. 4 to go into effect as the matter continues to be litigated all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Abbott, who last week met with House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, and urged his conference to pass some type of southern border-related legislation, has extolled efforts to combat illegal immigration since Operation Lone Star began in March 2021—leading to the placing of razor wire and Texas National Guard soldiers along the state’s border with Mexico.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is seen at Globe Life Field on March 28 in Arlington, Texas. The state’s potential new law, courtesy of Senate Bill 4, could put law enforcement against migrants in local hands…

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

“We’re financially strapped,” Terrell County Judge Dale Carruthers, a strong supporter of S.B. 4, told Scripps News on Monday. “Anything else that would be an unfunded mandate could cripple this county.”

While acknowledging that Operation Lone Star has provided her county with additional law enforcement, in the form of two sheriff deputies, Terrell County’s $1.8 million budget is already stretched thin and must cover everything from schools to roads to law enforcement.

Newsweek reached out to Terrell County officials and Abbott’s office via phone and email for comment.

The county has a population of 760 residents, according to the 2020 census, making it the seventh-least populous county in all of Texas and the 37th-least populous in the country.

Terrell County Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland previously told Newsweek that migrant deaths have dramatically increased. After finding on average one deceased migrant within county limits, 37 bodies have been found the past three years as the number of illegal migrants have increased across the United States under the Biden administration.

The county relies on the natural environment to deter migrants, including canyons, hills, washes, mountains and 2,000-foot cliffs that serve as a man-made constructed fence.

Even when county officials detain migrants, the jail space is only big enough to hold seven individuals and there is no separation between males and females. The county’s five law enforcement personnel, Cleveland told Scripps News, take matters into their own hands and patrol about 2,300 square miles of border, which includes semi-routine interdictions with migrant and smuggler vehicles on local roadways.

“I support [S.B. 4], but there are some questions that are left to be answered as far as some of that funding for resources,” Cleveland told Scripps News.

New data released earlier this month by the U.S. Census Bureau shows a population increase between 2022 and 2023 in nearly all Texas border counties, though Terrell County was one of two counties—joined by Zapata—decreasing. However, Terrell County only decreased by one resident while Zapata decreased by 102 residents.