LAREDO, Texas – Property damage and cries for help have become a consistent reality for Texas landowners near the Mexico border as the humanitarian migrant crisis continues to intensify.
San Antonio native John Saunders III has sprawling ranch land in Encinal, north of Laredo, that his family has owned since the 1930s.
“I have not seen it as bad as it is now. We’ve always had issues, it’s not a new problem, but it is getting worse,” Saunders said.
He came face-to-face with the border crisis last weekend at his ranch.
“This poor guy was walking up to the house and he had makeshift crutches with torn-up water bottles over the top. He paid $1,000, which is everything he owned, to get across,” Saunders said. “After he fell off a fence and broke his two legs, the group he was with robbed him blind. He showed me his wallet, and they took his ID and everything and left him with nothing.”
Saunders fed him and got him the help he needed, but the encounter made an impact.
Until then, the damage traffickers and coyotes had done was mainly to his ranch fences.
“We have perimeter fences being cut, climbed over and damaged, which allows animals and livestock to escape,” Saunders said. “Which creates a safety hazard to the public and a liability to us. Say a horse or cow gets out of our property and onto the highway and somebody has an accident, they’re not going to the state, they’re coming to us.”
Saunders said his fences and gates are being damaged weekly, sometimes daily.
“The larger damage incidents are called bailouts, whether they’re human smugglers or drug smugglers, when they’re getting pursued by the border patrol, sheriff or DPS they will veer off the highway at full speed and break through the fence,” Saunders said. “They’ll keep going until they can’t anymore or even worse go all the way through the ranch until they get to the other side and bust through again.”
The latest incident at his ranch happened just this past Saturday.
“A guy came in and busted through I think five or six of our fences trying to find his way out so that will be a big one. Probably be a $10,000 bill,” Saunders said.
According to Saunders, in each instance, he has to foot those bills himself.
“We kind of feel left out, unheard,” Saunders said.
He said that’s why he’s become vocal in the past couple of months on behalf of landowners.
“After I did a national news spot, the Texas Department of Public Safety called and asked for the receipts on our damages that we’d accrued on a previous incident, so I feel like speaking up is starting to work,” Saunders said. “I feel it’s only fair the taxpayers are taken care of as well as the people who are coming across.”
However, it’s not just about the money. Saunders said landowners have a front-row view to what’s happening and should be part of the conversation and eventual solution.
“I don’t know what the answer is. Some of the greatest people I’ve ever known are people who actually walked across our land,” Saunders said. “It’s important to have these migrants have a chance at a better life, but there’s just got to be a better way to accomplish this.”
Until then, he’ll endure the emotional tug of war between seeing the depths of the humanitarian crisis, and needing to safeguard his land and his family.