Texas border county sees surge in dead bodies being discovered (2024)

A Texas sheriff and former Border Patrol agent says he has seen a drastic increase in the number of deceased migrants within his county during the past three years of the Biden administration.

Texas has long attempted to rein in illegal immigration within its borders, aided by the launch of Operation Lone Star in March 2021 to minimize border crossings and fund more National Guard and law enforcement personnel to apprehend migrants. It is the state's response to "President Biden's reckless open border policies," the Office of the Texas Governor website said.

While such efforts have resulted in large fundraising efforts—including approximately $55.4 million from donors for border-wall construction as of December, according to the website—communities such as Terrell County are dealing with matters in a different way.

Texas border county sees surge in dead bodies being discovered (1)

The county has a population of 760 residents, according to the 2020 census, making it the seventh-least populous county in all of Texas and the 37th-least populous in the country. It also has no border wall because of natural barriers—including canyons, hills, washes, mountains and 2,000-foot cliffs that serve as a man-made constructed fence.

Historically, law enforcement and Border Patrol have averaged finding one deceased migrant per year within county limits. Within the past three years, they have discovered 37 bodies, Terrell County Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland told Newsweek.

"I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," the sheriff said. "I'm not picking on the Biden administration, but what we're seeing the last three years is something we've never seen before."

Prior to becoming sheriff of the small county, after his predecessor had a fatal heart attack, Cleveland served three years in the U.S. Air Force before spending 26 years as a federal Border Patrol agent—including the last 11 years within Terrell County.

While small in population, Terrell County is home to more than 2,300 square miles. The county shares 54 miles of border with the Rio Grande, and a Border Patrol station is responsible for a 91-mile stretch between Texas and Mexico.

Cleveland said that Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all contributed toward border security by providing border officials and agencies with more technology, agents and infrastructure—which in turn led to better overall security.

"This current administration, as soon as they got in, they dismantled everything what's been done before," he said. "Everything we accomplished over 100 years is completely dismantled."

Texas border county sees surge in dead bodies being discovered (2)

Migrant numbers in Terrell County have ebbed and flowed, with Cleveland saying the numbers show disparity because of the number of agents and an unidentified number of "got-aways."

In January, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its "Demographic Outlook: 2024 to 2054" assessment, which said 860,000 migrants entered the U.S. illegally in fiscal year 2023 "without encountering a CBP official," making them got-aways.

In December, the House Committee on Homeland Security released transcripts with Border Patrol chief agents, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection sources confirmed the arrival of more than 1.7 million got-aways.

Raul Ortiz, a former Border Patrol chief, said during a field hearing in March 2023 that the total number of got-aways could be as much as 20 percent higher than the publicly reported numbers.

Earlier this week, FBI Director Christopher Wray cautioned U.S. House and Senate members in separate hearings regarding the methodologies used by migrants to not only enter the U.S. illegally but also stay clandestine from border authorities and even intelligence agencies.

One method of "big concern," he said, involves migrants using fake identification documents that cannot be properly assessed by authorities, which makes tracking them a higher level of difficulty.

Texas border county sees surge in dead bodies being discovered (3)

Cleveland said migrants either absconded in the desert or required police interception on local roadways. He said that last week law enforcement had four high-speed chases in four days involving migrants.

Some migrants will successfully cross the border and find refuge in empty dwellings. One Terrell County landowner had property broken into last week, Cleveland said, resulting in the prosecution of a migrant.

But sometimes owners don't bother with prosecution, Cleveland added, with some even leaving food and water in their unlocked homes. He said these owners tended to be absentees who usually lived in metropolitan areas and generally spent less time near the border.

Some of their properties had already been broken into in the past, so leaving doors unlocked was easier than consistently replacing broken doors or windows.

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That is, however, if migrants make it that far.

Cleveland said the border in his county presented some of "the most rough and rugged terrain," and that some migrants had no situational awareness.

Last year, $1.7 million in resources were approved to provide the county with five additional vehicles, more deputies and other equipment that allowed them to work at night besides Border Patrol, Cleveland said.

Bone Water Crossing on the Rio Grande River along the U.S./Mexico Border in Terrell County, Texas. pic.twitter.com/seoNB4eRvH

— Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland (@ThadForTexas) March 12, 2024

They also jailed more migrants last year than ever before, Cleveland added, costing some $70,000—though the jail holds only seven people and neighboring facilities have had to provide support.

He said that the solution requires the right combination of border barriers, lighting, tech, agents and other sensors.

"It's no longer a crisis but a catastrophe," Cleveland said, adding, "It's a political issue, and all it would take is to either start detaining people or make them remain in Mexico."

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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Texas border county sees surge in dead bodies being discovered (2024)


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