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Border Lawman Tells Texas Politicians to ‘Shut Up’ About the Border

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Lt. Gov. Dewhurst tours the Rio Grande on a well-armed DPS boat
ltgov.state.tx.us
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tours the Rio Grande on a well-armed DPS boat

We’re in the middle of an election season that has seen a lot of political posturing over the Texas-Mexico border.

Considering only the lieutenant governor’s race: Dan Patrick has been railing about the state’s “illegal invasion” and the constant threat of violence posed by migrant criminals; David Dewhurst wants a $60 million “permanent surge” of manpower, vehicles and high-tech hardware, even if the Texas Department of Public Safety will have to cut other programs to do it. Todd Staples has spent years as agriculture commissioner talking about border security, and now he’s toting around a “six point plan” to finally lock down the Rio Grande. (Though one of those six points is “secure our border,” so it may not be the most comprehensive plan.)

One long-time border sheriff wishes they’d all just pipe down about it.

Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, who’s held his post for 14 years, is the chief law enforcement officer in Brewster County, the largest in the state—five times the size of Rhode Island, three times the size of Delaware and 500 square miles larger than Connecticut. It also has the largest stretch of the US-Mexico border of any Texas county. You might think, when it comes to the border, that he’d be ready for Dewhurst and Patrick to hurry on down and exact some Texas Justice. You’d be wrong.

“A lot of politicians are running on securing the border. One’s got a six point plan, one’s got a nine point plan. They’re throwing tons of money at this border. I wish they’d just shut up about it.” he told me. “Recently, we had an operation where they sent game wardens out here to look for drug traffickers—game wardens! I guess they figured the game was secure.”

Dodson’s family has been in Brewster County for five generations. In the early 1900’s, Pancho Villa’s rebels ran his grandfather off his ranch, and the family had to relocate to a protected basin in the Chisos Mountains. Compared to that, the border now looks tame—certainly not the way politicians in Austin are talking about it.

Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson.
Marfa Public Radio
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson.

“I think they’re just throwing money at the border for nothing. I think people on the interior see all these shows about the border where there’s violence,” he says. That’s a problem for places like Brewster County, the home of Terlingua, Lajitas and Marathon, where tourism comprises a large part of the local economy.

“A lot of tourists will call up to my office and say, ‘Is it safe out there?’ We’ll ask where they’re coming from. They’ll say ‘Houston,’” he says. “We’ll say, hurry up and get out of there! It’s safer here than where you’re coming from.”

A lot of border lawmen, Dodson says, are happy to take money from Austin. “I’m guilty myself of taking quite a bit of that money,” he says. With it, his men are better paid, better resourced. “We have equipment now because of that money that we would never have otherwise.”

But the increased state focus on border security comes with a cost, Dodson says. It drains resources from other causes, and it makes people feel insecure. And besides, he’s not really sure whether it’ll do a damn bit of good.

“They were smuggling across the border when my grandmother was a girl, and they’re going to be smuggling when my granddaughter grows up,” he says. “I wish they’d stop talking about the border and focus on problems in the interior.”

Christopher Hooks joined the Observer in 2014. Previously, he was a freelance journalist in Austin, where he grew up. His work has appeared in Politico Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, among others. He graduated from The New School in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history.

  • Lisa LeBlanc

    I like you, Sheriff Dodson. You seem to have a firm grasp on reality and priority. I’d ask you to run, but I think they need you to protect Brewster County from interior incursions…

  • Alex

    This is the most ridiculous statement ever. Brewster may be the largest county in Texas bordering Mexico but all along that part of the border is extremely rugged terrain. On both sides. When people do cross from Mexico to the United States they have a loooooong way to go before they are anywhere even remotely near what is considered civilization. Other than Terlingua/Lajitas there’s nothing out there until you reach Alpine and even that is a relatively small community. So yes, the Sheriff is correct in that Brewster County is safe because it’s not a favored area for drug trafficking or human smuggling. We have some out here but nothing like what they do elsewhere. Go down to the Rio Grande Valley portion of Texas and see if you can find a Sheriff there who doesn’t want more manpower, more equipment and more security. I’ll bet it can’t be done. Hundreds of people and thousands of pounds of drugs cross down there on a regular basis. Many of those people are armed and don’t hesitate to fire on law enforcement. Sheriff Dodson is a great sheriff and when it comes to home he’s pretty accurate but Texas comprises far more than just Brewster County.

  • Mark

    The sheriff is correct. Those politicians are using the border security boogeyman to get elected. Why don’t they tackle the real issues- immigration reform and decriminalizing drugs? Too tough for those sissies.

    • kfletch87

      Ya, it’s not like 3-4 million illegals cross the US-Mexico border every year. What are they so worried about?

  • onceproudamerican

    Sorry Sheriff Dodson, the border affects ALL Texans and folks here illegally cost Texans over 9 BILLION dollars per year as well as being a national security issue. To have Texans taking off their clothing just to get on a plane while leaving the border insecure is the height of lunacy.

  • Guest

    It doesn’t seem that Sheriff Dodson’s best interest in not always in line with the rest of us. The whole of Brewster County’s population is like a typical small Texas town; about 9300 people.

    Statistics show that $338,000,000,000 are spent on illegal immigrants in America annually. I’d personally like to see that number come WAY down. Stopping illegals is the only way.

    As a 40 year police officer I know for a fact that we (law enforcement) could eradicate the U.S. of illegals if the Government would allow it.

    • okjb1168

      eradicate???

  • jshe28

    It doesn’t seem that Sheriff Dodson’s best interest is not in line with the rest of us. The whole of Brewster County’s population is like a typical small Texas town; about 9300 people.

    Statistics show that $338,000,000,000 are spent on illegal immigrants in America annually. I’d personally like to see that number come WAY down. Stopping illegals is the only way.

    As a 40 year police officer I know for a fact that we (law enforcement) could eradicate the U.S. of illegals if the Government would allow it.

    • Jed

      those are some big ass statistics.

    • Independent Texan

      You had me until you used the word “eradicate”. I think that’s a very poor choice of words.

      • jshe28

        Independent Texan, pick your poison. Deport, remove, ship them back, uproot, root out, arrest, expel, move, kick out, throw out, exile, eliminate, gather them up and ship them back to their home country. Of course you’ll have to change the order of the wording a little if you prefer to use a different term. They all mean the same thing, unless you go to extremes and I think everyone knows that’s not how it was meant.

    • kfletch87

      Are those numbers correct? Where did you get them? What do they comprise of — welfare/ERs/etc?

      Not saying they are correct/false, just would like some clarification.

      I think most people agree that the vast majority of illegal immigrants simply want a better life and for that I welcome them. However, so do the other millions upon millions of applicants who are seeking a better life in this country. It is unfair for people to illegally cross into our sovereign nation and expect a piece of the pie. It’s unfair to the current citizens, and most especially to the legal residents waiting for citizenship, those who waited, paid, and filled out the paper work.

      Does that mean immigration doesn’t need reform, that it only needs security? No. We definitely should make it simpler, maybe even easier, to come to this country legally, but we certainly should reward ANYONE who does it improperly, wasting our tax dollars and our security.

      As for the children, I am willing to consider some kind of special treatment for children, it’s not their fault their parents came here illegally and many of them can’t return to Mexico or wherever they came from, as they don’t even speak the language. However, it’s not our fault that these children’s parents broke the law. It’s the parents’ who deserve the ultimate blame for the situation their children are in. That being said, anyone who came here as an adult should be deported immediately. That doesn’t mean we seek out all illegal immigrants and mass deport, but rather they aren’t released because they are “non violent illegal immigrants.” No, if they are caught, they should be deported, and with extra security we would have a better chance of ensuring they don’t recross the border.

      • jshe28

        kfletch87, the numbers I posted were from two or three web sites. It includes a lot of different costs. Some are: The costs of Immigation and Naturalization Services enforcement, Welfare and Social Services (food assistance programs such as food stamps, WIC, and free school lunches, primary and secondary school education for children here illegally, sending money back to their countries of origin). Education for illegals and anchor babies, suppressed American wages caused by illegals, Department of Corrections and Prisons for illegals, Health care, Police Enforcement Services for illegals.

        These are some of the major expenditures but there are many, many more I’m sure you can think of; for example increased vehicle insurance premiums for you since many illegals don’t carry insurance, cost to families in burglary, theft, assaults wages you have lost due to illegal acts, courts costs, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

        I know most folks are only thinking welfare but there is so much more than just welfare.

        • kfletch87

          Okay, can you please post them so their is a clear source.

  • Bill

    Like this guy. He reminds me a bit of former Travis Country Sheriff, Raymond Frank, the “sheriff who shoots straight,” who boldly spoke out against persecuting harmless, non-violent offenders for such “crimes” as skinny-dipping and smoking cannabis. We need more of this kind of real, down-to-earth human being in positions of authority, and fewer of those who waste so much of our time and money and patience posturing themselves for popularity points with self-serving, airery-fairly, ill-concieved and useless positions and programs and creating bigger problems than already exist. Get more like him.

  • TheLiberalEater

    I know Dodson personally. I also know Brewster County personally. I have been all over it. Brewster County is THE EXCEPTION to the border problem. Dodson is right, in his area, there aren’t many border problems BECAUSE of the distance between ANYTHING out there. It’s the desert, it’s rugged; in short, environmental conditions protect the border in Brewster Co. If Dodson wants to see the real border, take a drive to the Rio Grande Valley or Laredo. THAT is the border that needs addressing. Dodson, needs to quit being a politician and stop speaking of things he knows little about.

    • kfletch87

      Exactly, people act like he isn’t a politician too. Last I checked, Sheriffs were directly voted in by the county residents. Therefore, he has just as much of an incentive to spin the Border Security issue as he claims his counterparts in Austin have. He has to make it look like he is doing his job, and that his county is the safest county on the border, but that only serves him and not the hundreds of thousands living on the border in other areas who are in constant threat by illegal immigrants who are often accompanied by armed men. As the ranchers a bit further north how they feel about this so called “non-existent” problem that politicians are “making up.”

  • mike_smith

    Dan Patrick and his radio station has furnished single engine airplanes and bullet-proof vest to the border police departments from money they raised through his station. Anyone else know of anyone else that has done that?

  • Judy Stokes

    I’ve worked for Sheriff Dodson for over 13 years. His thought is if you want to he a Game Warden, be a Game Warden. If you want to protect the US border, there is a whole Agency, US Border Patrol out there for just that purpose. Same with DPS. He does agree the focus should be directed at the El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville areas. The need is there. Those Sheriffs suffer with the trafficking. Our trafficking is there, but always has been and always will be. We know terrorism is crossing the border. We understand Us Border Patrol, which his Deputies respond and assist, day or night, do need help. Day to day duties his guys run across all types of illegal activities. So the political issues are there, but not being utilized to the real border needs, such as juvenile illegals. There is currently no funding directed at helping when juveniles are caught. Which smugglers are using more and more because the know no prosecution will happen. And Yes, the Sheriff does know the Texas border and the problems there.

  • Sheriff Arvin West

    I am not sure if the reporter is writing all that Sheriff Dodson said. As a border sheriff for several years I also think the politics and propaganda is crazy. We do NOT need hundreds of more agents, and troopers on the border. What we do need is what is here to be allowed to do their jobs. Border Patrol needs to be on the border not miles and miles away from it taking the snare approach. One senator asked me if I understood why the Border Patrol did the snare and maybe I did not understand! I explained to him that I do understand and while they sit back miles from the border ranchers and farmers are being trespassed on. DPS has changed its mentality from a good solid policing agency to that of the Federal Government. The once elite Texas Rangers are now a miniature version of the FBI. Funding is a JOKE money is wasted by the State for operations that do nothing but harass the local citizens. When a solid citizen gets stopped seven times by troopers in a 10 mile stretch he becomes annoyed and I don’t blame him. (for a license plate light on a trailer) That my friends is not real police work. Sheriff Dodson I stand with you and committed to protect our citizens of this great State and Country.
    Sheriff Arvin West
    Hudspeth County.

    • drdem

      Another great Sherriff ! It´s too bad those zombies in the State House do not
      listen to you REAL EXPERTS more !

  • Jason Jacoby

    with all that is happening in the world, do you feel comfortable knowing there are 30,000,000 ESTIMATED people in this country who we really do not know much about? even if they are not terrorists, if the US has to make tough decisions in the world, do we know how these folks will react? do we even know if they have assimilated American values or will support the US in its actions?
    what if one percent are hostile? that is a huge problem. Sheriff, it also begs the question, how the hell did so many get here. do the math if you say a million a year…

    • drdem

      What´s really ST- UPID is the fact RAT publiKKKans don´t care if they get guns without
      being checked first ! Now ,that´s STI_IPID !

      • Bo

        Idiot #47 for the day…. Funny how you occupier freaks all show up when someone in texas is actually spewing your narrative. Go back to your x box, and bong.. The world will look much better in the morning.

  • drdem

    This is a real Sherriff ! Not like that JOKE in Arizona !

  • Ring Huggins

    Way to go Ronnie! The Big Bend Border Patrol Sector is the safest on the entire U.S.Mexican border. Statistically, if you were to take a one mile walk at eight p.m. in Washington, D.C. you would have a 1,000 times more chance of being robbed, mugged, raped or murdered there than doing that same walk in the Bend.

  • Independent Texan

    What bothers me is that the far right wants to resort to Gestapo-esque tactics to get the job done when some sensible things would be far better. Why not legalize marijuana, and take all the money out of the drug cartels? Why not beef up enforcement of the existing laws against hiring illegals? Why not create some sort of modified guest-worker program, complete with open-market wages (i.e. no financial advantage to hiring illegals) and a tax payable by the employers (a disincentive to hire illegals), that allows foreign nationals to come here for seasonal work without giving them the lucrative financial benefits of
    citizenship? I also think if you take the “sanctuary city” protection away from the illegals, a lot of them will return home.

    And if they want to become US citizens, that’s wonderful. They can get in line behind the others who have followed the legal process. I believe 99% of undocumented workers just want to work and provide for their families, and most of them are doing jobs that Texans know need to be done and aren’t currently being done by citizens.

    Unfortunately, what the hard left wants is a huge new source of government-dependent voters. So they want to amnesty everybody, give them drivers licenses and in-state tuition and Medicaid and, most importantly, the right to vote.

    Also unfortunately, what the hard right wants boils down to “can vee zee your paperz, bitte?” Not to mention the whole alligators-in-the-Rio-Grande kind of imagery. That tactic is extremely divisive, and if were an otherwise conservative businessman in San Antonio named Rodriguez or Garcia, it would chase me into the waiting arms of the highly irresponsible Democrat party.

    We need some grown ups in Austin to solve this, not a bunch of demagogues like Dan Patrick et al. Hoping that we’d find some grownups in Washington is beyond fantasy, but I would hope Texas could do it. Sadly I see “Washington-style” divisiveness taking over in Austin.

    • Bo

      Funny how you morons number one priority is legalize pot? That will solve all our problems.. right it will only solve yours because you’re too stoned to give a flyn fk what really happens to our country. The other half of you libs are pacified with free grant money, student loans, and welfare. You’re the reason we have this treasonous bobble head in charge!

      • clovisbuford

        Way to miss the issue from the boots on the ground . I am pretty sure the sheriff is not a loon liberal in rural Texas after 5 generations . Perhaps you should go back to orange county cali . and talk about Obama . College loans , free grant money ,border securitywooh ooo treasonos behaviour, cough .You come across as another one of those knee jerk e-tards that thinks the conservative label and throwing out buzz words makes you sound intelligent .

        • Bo

          Talk about missing the issue dumbo… I never said the sheriff was a loon, and everything about California stinks. So back to your drawing board little cookie cutter You have lots of learning to do.

  • Patricia

    You go Ronny Dodson, tell it like it is.

  • radsenior

    Ever notice each and every local, state and regional person running for office in every border state are using anti-Obama rhetoric?
    Ever notice each and every local, state and regional person running for office in every border state are railing about illegal immigrants?
    Ever notice each and every local, state and regional person running for office in every state are crying about no jobs production?
    Ever notice each and every local, state and regional person running for office in every state are emphasizing Anti-Obama anything?
    Ever notice each and every local, state and regional person running for office in every state are emphasizing securing the border? That is TEA-code for no immigration reform.
    Ask yourselves – Why anti-Obama?
    Anti-Obama is TEA-type code for anti-black president. And why is anti-Obamacare the biggest attacking point? Shallow minds hear Obama and that’s the guy they will vote for!

    If you are tired of the stalemate and radical extremes blocking key legislation at the local, state level and nationally, get involved and inform yourselves, get registered and V.O.T.E.(Vote Out The Encumbrance) The Treasonous Enraged Agitators(TEA) party and Grandiose Oppressive Partisans(GOP) are too busy passing gas upwind and trying to repeal health care.(50 times voted now)

    October of last year, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) — who has become the personification of the Tea Party — led Republicans into a government shutdown that lasted weeks and shed billions in economic activity. $414 million to people around the nation. And the federal government lost $44 billion in lost revenue. Once the Tea Party wave saw Republicans flood into office, their obsession with restricting reproductive rights could not be contained. In the three full years since 2011, more abortion restrictions have been passed at the state level than in the past decade. Now – GET OUT THERE AND VOTE – GET OUT THE VOTE – DRIVE SOMEONE TO THE VOTING BOOTH – GET INVOLVED – SITTING ON THE SIDELINE WORKS ONLY IN FOOTBALL. MAKE YOUR OWN DECISION – DO NOT LET OTHERS MAKE DECISIONS YOU WILL NOT LIKE!

    • SpencerChaffin

      You are so wrong. There are more than one black patriotic citizens.
      that may very well decide to run for president that supports the conservative principals and ideas of the Taxed Enough Already people. As a 77 year old deep south white person, I would support any one of the several

  • http://chili.org Jim Ezell

    Great job Ronny!

  • Mike Arnold

    Brewster, Presidio, and Jeff Davis counties have very capable LE agencies. Their seems to be issues between these local agencies and the numerous “outside” agencies present. Those “issues” may be due to 1) Accepting Federal funds (strings attached always) and 2), the fact that many, if not all of these “outside” agencies, have a mentality that all of our LE are “on the payroll.” Sheriffs Dodson, McIvor, and Dominguez, know what works, and doesn’t, in their respective counties. That’s why the People elect them. One possible “fix”? Stop accepting funding from these sources.

    • Troubleshooter

      If they are so fucking capable, then why is the country overrun with illegals?

  • Troubleshooter

    Is this fucking moron so damned stupid that he doesn’t realize that the Problems in the “Interior” are to a large extent caused by a POROUS border that he is not, and apparently does not care to be, successfully ENFORCING? Obviously, Inbreeding is a bigger problem there than in the rest of Texas.