Saying he wanted an honest disaster declaration, Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly cast aside intense pressure from speakers excoriating him to act, declining to say that illegal immigrants were invading the county.
"I need stats," Kelly said. "I need data from the sheriff's office, and ya'll have been working on that."
In terms of a disaster declaration, Kelly is the sole decider.
And facing Kelly were those who see what happens at the border as an invasion of illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The scrutiny facing Kelly is significant and organized — as demonstrated by the attendance at Monday morning's commissioner's court meeting.
However, Kelly was undeterred that he would not sign a disaster declaration. The court did vote 4-0, with Kelly abstaining, to authorize a resolution that clears the way for Kerr County Sheriff Larry Leitha to apply for grant funding through Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star initiative.
The grant would help pay for equipment, enforcement and other expenses related to the state's border operations. The money can also be spent on indigent defense and expediting cases through the court system.
The challenge is that the grant requires a resolution from the commissioner's court and a disaster declaration from the judge. Kelly made it clear he was not signing any disaster declarations until he had further discussions with the sheriff.
Leitha said the primary focus would be on obtaining equipment needed to help with enforcement — specifically on Texas Highway 41 and Interstate 10. The sheriff's office is active in patrolling those areas and has made more than 50 human smuggling arrests during the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Capt. Jason Waldrep, who leads the sheriff's special operations team, said enhanced enforcement in the coming fiscal year should lead to more arrests of smugglers and the return of illegal immigrants to the border. Waldrep said deputies captured more than 200 immigrants in the last fiscal year.
The challenge for Kelly is defining the ongoing enforcement as a disaster, which he argued is inaccurate. Kelly said a disaster means that law enforcement is overwhelmed by illegal immigrants, which the data does not reflect.
"I want analysis on what's going on in these transportation corridors," Kelly said. "Highway 41 and Interstate 10 are dangerous. That's where the crime is. That's where the trafficking is. It spills off into the county when they bail out of the vehicles. That I want to address, and the sheriff has done a marvelous job. I've complimented him publically numerous times, and I will continue to.
"But one of the things that is required of this is that it says there is an imminent danger. I've visited with the sheriff and his staff about how imminent is this. Right now, we've been able to contain it."