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Crackdown on illegal immigration focuses on ranches in Kinney, Val Verde Counties

DPS said over 1,800 migrants have been arrested in the area since July.

BRACKETTVILLE, Texas — As the race for state leadership heats up, Governor Greg Abbott continues to tout his crackdown on illegal immigration.

Operation Lone Star authorizes state troopers to arrest migrants on state criminal trespass charges.

Officials said it’s an effort to keep communities safe and stop illegal border crossings.

The KENS 5 Border Team rode along with a DPS Special Operations Team as they patrolled ranches in rural Kinney County where officials said they are getting back-to-back reports every night of migrants using private property as a route to avoid authorities.

“It's very dangerous to make that journey, especially in these areas here when you have no idea where you're going and what the outcome is going to be,” said DPS Lt. Chris Olivares.

The high game fences and rough terrain in the areas of Kinney and Val Verde Counties where the operation team is focused, can be difficult to navigate for both law enforcement and migrants.

Olivares said the majority of migrants officers are finding on the private ranch properties are men, traveling on foot, and trying at all costs to avoid authorities.

“We're seeing illegal immigrants that are wearing camouflage clothing to avoid detection because they're trying to move further inland and trying to avoid law enforcement,” said Olivares.

Landowners in both counties participating in the crackdown give troopers permission to access their property and arrest migrants for trespassing.

“Some of the landowners were voicing concerns that illegal immigrants were trespassing on their property, damaging their fences. They didn't feel safe around their homes because of these illegal immigrants who were coming across,” said Olivares.

Olivares said troopers have arrested migrants who have criminal records, and criminal gang members including MS-13 and cartel members.   He said some of the migrants have become aggressive when approached by officers.

“They resist our law enforcement. There's been several incidents where they throw rocks at our law enforcement personnel because again, they're trying to avoid apprehension,” said Olivares.

A group the KENS 5 Border Team encountered, however, were cooperative with authorities. The group of at least seven men said they’d been walking for five days with an end destination of San Antonio.

Olivares said more than 1,800 migrants have been arrested since July in the area, and the initiative is becoming a deterrent to potential migrants.

“We feel it's been very effective. The message is getting out that if they do come to these areas, they will be arrested,” said Olivares.

However, some civil rights organizations disagree.

“Trespassing is usually a misdemeanor criminal offense,” said Lindsay Gray, the CEO of Vecina, a non-profit organization that offers pro bono legal help to migrants.

“When you think about the enormous amount of resources that our state is expending to criminally prosecute people for trespass, when there really will be no deterrent effect, it's very much a waste of resources, and is a result of cutting off people's legal means of seeking asylum in the United States,” said Gray.