'Border Surge' funds in question

Hard hit non-border Brooks County may lose out


FALFURRIAS, Texas – Benny Martinez sat with furrowed brow Friday, his office phone cradled on his shoulder.

The Brooks County chief deputy had just told a woman in El Salvador that the father of her three children had perished in the heat, supposedly on his first trek north.

The body of Juan Arturo Hernandez was found on a ranch, thankfully with an ID -- unlike so many others.

Martinez also called the restaurant worker in Denver who was waiting for Hernandez.

The worker asked in Spanish, "Is he dead?"

"Yes, yes, he is," Martinez said.

Hernandez is the 32nd immigrant to die in Brooks County this year.

Martinez said the death toll to date already is far ahead of last year, which ended with a record 130 bodies of men, women and children being recovered.

Before making those latest notifications, Martinez said a Congressional aide had just informed him that Brooks County should not count on any "border surge" funds approved last week in the Senate's version of immigration reform.

Nearly $40 billion have been proposed to double the number of Border Patrol agents, create a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, and additional border fencing.

But Martinez said there is no local funding in the bill, especially for his non-border county.

"There's always hope for something, but is it going to happen? Probably not," Martinez said as the U.S. House is set to consider its own version of immigration reform.  

He said Brooks County is 70 miles from the border, yet it's seeing a daily surge of smuggling activity being funneled around the busiest of three Border Patrol checkpoints in the Rio Grande Valley sector.

"We need to become a border county where the funds are directly forwarded to the county," Martinez said.

He said 90 percent of his department's caseload is immigration-related, including an increase rapes and assaults, as well as property damage at area ranches.

Martinez said he and Sheriff Rey Rodriguez often have to respond to calls themselves because their department is so small, yet covers 900 square miles.

"(We have) just five men that constantly work, (and who) are committed, devoted," Martinez said.

He said not only do his deputies try protect local taxpayers, they also try to save the lives of immigrants.

"Because they're humans, too," Martinez said.

He said federal funding would go a long way towards staffing, overtime and fuel costs.

"We're stretched beyond the limit. Our wire is so thin, no one can walk on it," Martinez said.

Even still, he said, "Washington pretty much knows all this. They know it all."

For a list of recent stories Jessie Degollado has done, click here.