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‘These units are the frontline’ | Assisting with border security putting pressure on resource-strained Texas police department

For this police force of just over a dozen, all they can do is wait for the next wave and hope their preparations are enough.

LA JOYA, Texas — One hundred people per hour, maybe more. 

That’s how many migrants one small border-community police department estimates it saw crossing the Rio Grande last summer into their jurisdiction. The flow has since subsided, but authorities in the Hidalgo County town of La Joya say they’re still trying to recover. 

“It did slow down, this is due to weather,” said La Joya Police Sgt. Joel Villareal. “Right now, what we're seeing a lot is smaller groups that are loading up in certain spots, where the coyotes are already waiting.”

Every night, every shift, every hour is different, just like with any law enforcement patrol. When KENS 5 followed Villareal one night in January to observe what he goes through, not much happened that we could see.

Villareal, though, has seen enough. He told KENS 5 that from March of 2021 through September,, the city near the Rio Grande was very busy, with dozens of asylum-seekers arriving on an hourly basis. 

“Large groups crossing into jurisdiction,” he said. “And those were the groups that were surrendering themselves.”

Villareal works with 15 other officers, including the police chief, in the  small department that finds itself on the front lines of border security.

“Most of the groups we had encountered when we were having this mass flow of people were people that were severely dehydrated, malnutritioned (sic), very sick,” Villareal described. “The terrain, the weather, the amount of people that we were having to ferry from the southeastern edge of the riverbanks all the way to the north side took a toll on the ATVs and UTVs. Having to take the units into rough terrain to be able to rescue these people, to bring them back to Border Patrol.”

“The units, it devastated them all completely,” Villareal added.

The sergeant told KENS 5 six patrol cars are out for repair, which amounts to nearly half the fleet. One was damaged just last week during what the officers are dealing with now: pursuits of human smugglers. 

“It affects us greatly, because these smugglers, they don't care where they're going. It's (at) such a high speed they're traveling that by the time people realize that there's lights behind them in front, on the side of them, you know, accidents happen.”

Villareal said the driver and the officer are OK after another crash just last week. But a patrol unit is out of commission. “It hurts us a lot, these pursuits,” Villareal said. “It impacts [us], really, when we have men that are going to be working overtime and these units are out of service. That has been one of the biggest issues that we've been trying to get fixed.”

“We've been getting assistance through grants for equipment, but we haven't been able to get money to purchase units, which is something that we're hurting really bad right now for,” he added.

The department needs more money, Villareal said, as a little over a dozen people at his police department on the border are trying to prepare for the next wave, which they're sure will come.

“It sounds bad when you say, ‘We need the money,’” said Villareal, “but we do need the money because these units are the frontline that will defend everyone in this country. Period.”

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