REFUGIO, Texas — Refugio County Sheriff Raul "Pinky" Gonzalez said you're going to start seeing more human smuggling cases get prosecuted. That was evident on Thursday with over 30 cases coming before a judge.
“We need to do something to deter these people from coming across,” he said.
Gonzales said human smuggling cases are on the rise. He believes there was no real deterrent from people caught smuggling undocumented immigrants.
They would go to border patrol, be processed and deported, but might try again later.
“Driving vehicles that were stolen, speeding, driving through town at high rate of speed, going through people’s property knocking down fences, knocking down gates. So, we decided to start filing on these people,” said Gonzales.
This new practice comes in part because of Governor Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star.
Announced in 2021, it was an emergency authorization to help border counties in apprehending and deporting undocumented immigrants.
Gonzales said the operation has provided funding to help his county; although Refugio wasn't initially listed as one of the counties in a state of disaster.
Carol Anderson works along U.S. Highway 77 and said she’s witnessed many law enforcement interactions with undocumented immigrants.
“I've seen lots of people get stopped, I've seen people bailout," said Anderson, a Refugio native. "We’ve had wrecks directly right here, same reason. People getting stopped and other people aren’t paying attention and boom.”
She said it’s so common, she’s worried how it will affect the younger generation as they grow up.
“It’s scary when they bailout," Anderson said. "Again, because luckily we have a sheriff’s department on our Facebook page and they post when there’s a bailout. It’s a small town, so we have people, friends with scanners. They’ll call us, 'hey, be careful, there’s a bailout.'”
Gonzalez detailed many layers to the act of human smuggling.
One component, he said, is it's a business for Mexican Cartels.
"It's a Cartel business and they're making, actually they're making over $100 million a month smuggling people," he said. "They're actually making more money smuggling people than they are with drugs."
Gonzalez added many undocumented immigrants will face victimization by the people who smuggle them into the country.
It’s reflected in the charges several people are facing.
"Along the way, many of them get raped, a lot of them get beat up. These are things that weren't expected," he said. "They weren't expected to be victimized this way and it's a crying shame."
Gonzalez said he remembers a recent group of undocumented immigrants that were arrested in Refugio County. He said he empathizes them after hearing the story of two of those immigrants.
“He said, all we want to do is go back home, we want to go to El Salvador," Gonzales recounted. "He said, we have relatives that could probably send us money. He said, but they’ll probably take us back to Mexico. He said, and we know they’re going to take our money in Mexico, we’re not going to be able to fly back home.”
Anderson believes business owners would feel safer if a bypass was built. Although, she understands businesses could be hurt without that traffic coming through highway 77.