Texas Ranchers Under Attack

by Ryan Lovelace
A home break-in in a border area overrun by illegal immigrants

Ronnie Osburn was preparing to talk to National Review Online Thursday about lawlessness in his border community when his home was broken into.

Osburn, a rancher who lives just south of a Border Patrol checkpoint in Brooks County, Texas, says he stepped away for about 45 minutes, and when he returned somebody had trashed his house. The trespassers shattered his gun case, leaving a trail of blood throughout the house, but dropped the guns near the kitchen before scattering out the back door. They had searched through the house, opened drawers, and even left a heap of uncooked bacon in a frying pan on the stove.

Ranchers in South Texas say they are seeing a greater criminal element among illegal immigrants trespassing through their property. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers responded to the situation. Although no arrests have been made, a Brooks County sheriff’s deputy tells National Review Online the break-in involved “undocumented crossers.” At one point a Border Patrol agent said he thought the trespassers had been spotted about a half-mile north of the ranch, headed in the same direction as the Border Patrol checkpoint near Falfurrias.

Border Patrol agents carrying AR-15s and 12-gauge pumps searched the property with Osburn, who also had an AR-15, looking for any sign of the trespassers. After scanning his backyard, Osburn discovered three shoes left behind, and Border Patrol agents said they expected the burglars were less than a mile away.

“Welcome to South Texas,” Osburn tells me while extending his hand.  

“This is not the first time this has happened,” he says. “I have Border Patrol in here every day chasing groups, just about.”

As daylight faded, a Border Patrol agent gave the order to leave the ranch, saying he did not want to send his guys into the brush after an unknown number of illegal immigrants who could be waiting for him with weapons. The Brooks County Sheriff’s Department is now leading the investigation, but it has turned up no more leads days after the break-in occurred.

Osburn says he has had to take extra precautions in case of just such an attack. “When I go to sleep at night, I lay down and I put my pistol there, I measure it where if somebody comes in the house I can pick it up and go,” Osburn says. When mowing the lawn, Osburn says, ranchers in South Texas always need a pistol ready.

“Down here there’s no question, ‘Oh, was it loaded?’” Osburn says. “Well, hell yeah, it’s loaded. Why have a gun if it’s not loaded? And it’s off safety too. That’s the way we live.”

Other ranchers tell me that the amount of OTM — other than Mexican — traffic is increasing in South Texas, and that the disposition of the travelers has grown more hostile. Ranchers say the immigrants who reach Brooks County are ready to fight.

Mike Vickers, a doctor who lives on a ranch a few miles north on the opposite side of the Border Patrol checkpoint, says he has had his home broken into too. He says that one week, he had to pull his gun three times. Two of those times, he says, he wasn’t sure whether or not he’d have to pull the trigger.

“We’re fighting a war here and we’ve been fighting it a long time,” Mike Vickers says. “These people we’re encountering here are combative.”

Mike Vickers lives with his wife, Linda, who is the chief of staff of the Texas Border Volunteers — a group of people who assist law enforcement with securing the border. Linda says fewer women illegally travel through her property now, because more are surrendering near the border located approximately 70 miles south of the Vickers ranch.

Linda Vickers says she has seen a higher criminal element trespassing through her property and says the OTM traffic coming through her ranch knows how to hug trees and hide in the salt grass. For this reason she has a team of dogs that travel along her property with her, and she can decipher when trespassers set foot on her property by the way her dogs bark.

“The dogs seem to keep them from running, for some reason,” she says with a chuckle. “The dogs like it when they run.”

The dogs have also been known to recover the remains of illegal immigrants who don’t survive the elements while traveling across the ranch. Several years ago, the dogs brought Linda Vickers the decomposing head of an unidentified woman. Mike Vickers says he almost ran over the body of a dead Salvadoran while driving along his fence line, and he says people who succumb to the heat may have horrifying experiences. “Birds have a tendency, the caracaras, to get after their eyes sometimes even when they’re comatose and not dead yet,” he says about a man who bled out through his eyes over his chest. “We see a lot of that.”

Nearly 250 bodies have been recovered in Brooks County since 2012, says Benny Martinez, chief deputy of the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department. He says once you’ve reached Brooks County, there’s no turning back.

“The terrain doesn’t discriminate,” Martinez says. “Whether you’re 16 or whether you’re 60, if you’re not equipped to do the walk, if you’re not equipped to have everything in place to assist you to get through, you’re not going to get through. It just ain’t going to happen.”

He says the vegetation is thick during the summer, but will thin out during the fall months, which will allow more bodies to be found.

Martinez says the corridor that includes Brooks County is one of the busiest along the border, with the added influx of Central American immigrants making their way north. People have called from California and Colorado looking for loved ones they believe to be traveling through Brooks County, he says. One family came in from Boston to search for a family member.

“There’s no end to this. It gets to the point of, ‘Okay, why are they still coming?’” Martinez says. “You get frustrated in the sense that they ought to know better. We have put everything out long enough to where they shouldn’t come, yet they do.” 

Ranchers say better enforcement from more agents at the border would help provide an answer, but Osburn says the situation is beyond repair. He says he blames former Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama for causing the problem, and says General David Petraeus would be a good fit to fix the situation. The “people up north” think this is a joke, he says, and nothing will change until illegal immigrants kill someone like himself.

“The people [illegal-immigrant trespassers] are not a mile from us and they [Border Patrol] pulled out of here, pulled off,” Osburn says. “Why catch them if they’re just going to turn them loose? Why go through all the bulls**t?”

Martinez says the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the break-in, but he says it’s difficult to track down the undocumented crossers. “So much stuff is going on right now that it’s hard to respond to all of them,” Martinez says.

Osburn says he has never wanted to live under the constant threat of an attack from people trespassing on his property.

“Back in the good old days everybody would do their ranch work, [and in the] afternoon get together, drink beer, have a good time,” Osburn says. “It’s not like that anymore. Everybody just watches their ass, you know?”

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.