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Border crime testimony: Caged women in stash house, 2-year-old fentanyl poisoning

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A north Texas sheriff testified before a congressional hearing Tuesday about cartel and border-related crime impacting his county.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn described border-related crimes ranging from stolen cars being used to traffick people and drugs, finding stash houses where illegal foreign nationals are being held, and skyrocketing opioid overdoses.

Tarrant County is the third largest county in Texas with a population of more than 2.2 million people. It’s roughly a five-hour drive from the border town of Laredo.

Waybourn described crimes associated with human trafficking, including finding a recent stash house that had cages in it where women were being held by cartel operatives.

He also described how the opioid crisis has worsened since January 2021, pointing to increased deaths and violence. City police agencies working fentanyl homicides include a former county judge and a 2-year-old poisoned from fentanyl. From May to December 2023, there were more than 3,000 opioid overdoses in the county, many were fatal, he said.

In November, “the cartel decided to shoot it out with our team, injuring one of our officers. We vigorously returned fire and we terminated that threat and recovered 14 kilos of drugs.”

According to DEA intelligence, “cartel members working in our area, 90% of them are illegally in the U.S., and yes, they do have American citizens assisting them,” he said.

He also gave insight into the cartel mindset. He explained how his deputies “solicited intelligence directly from cartel members in jail asking them the proverbial question, ‘why are you killing your clients with this fentanyl?’

“Their simple answer was, ‘whatever kills the American is good with us.’”

Waybourn is among more than 100 Texas sheriffs who support Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star. He reiterated what other Texas sheriffs have told The Center Square: “Our common belief in law enforcement is that China, the Mexican cartels, and Venezuela are weaponizing fentanyl to use against us.

“Sheriffs in Texas agree that securing the border and reforming immigration are entirely two different issues. We first must secure the border.”

On Tuesday, he testified before the House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs about the border crisis impacting local communities.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., blamed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ policies for “attract[ing] many illegal aliens with criminal histories.” Citing a 2021 Mayorkas memorandum that unilaterally changed enforcement of federal immigration law, he said according to this standard, “a criminal alien could theoretically be a convicted murderer and avoid becoming an enforcement priority for ICE.”

ICE’s non-detained docket has at least 617,000 “aliens with criminal convictions or pending criminal charges,” Grothman added.

Increased crime has had an impact on Tarrant County jail and taxpayer resources, Waybourn said. Of its average inmate population of 4,200, “6% are illegal aliens. Of the 264 illegal aliens in custody, they have allegedly committed 178 violent crimes including eight murders and 44 sexual assaults of children.”

They are being held on 311 state charges and federal detainers for illegal entry into the U.S., he said, costing taxpayers $24,000 a day to house.

“While the economic impact is one thing, the toll on human lives is another, one of which cannot be calculated,” he said. The inmates allegedly committed over 170 violent crimes, including assault, aggravated sexual assault, sex assault of children, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and victimization of the elderly.

According to Texas Department of Public Safety data, “illegal aliens are more likely to be convicted of homicide, sexual assault, and kidnapping than the average Texan,” Grothman said.

Noncitizen Tarrant County jail inmates are from 15 countries, Waybourn added, with 10% being from Venezuela who are affiliated with violent gangs. He also raised concerns about the record number of violent criminals, Venezuelan criminals and terrorists coming through the border into local communities nationwide.

“The concern of the terrorist watchlist people showing up at the border,” he said, “the nearly two million gotaways … and other people that we don’t know about, that keeps us up at night.”