AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas border sheriff who had resisted working with the state to refer illegal immigrants on state trespassing charges said rising crime in his community has forced him to take action and partner with Austin.

Despite neighboring counties signing agreements to work with the state earlier this year, Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber had held out on partnering with the governor’s office to refer noncitizens on state charges.

“The state’s been after me for a few months,” said Schmerber. "I hesitated for about two months. What kind of pushed me to really was because there were more things that were happening. I didn't see migrants coming in and just moving on. I saw immigrants get into houses, breaking in, damaging, taking things. I started getting calls from ranchers about all the damage they were doing — calls from neighborhoods close to the city about breaking in, taking things.”


In one recent incident, he said, a Honduran man broke into the home of a 73-year-old woman and sexually assaulted her. Schmerber was unable to provide recent crime statistics.

Joana Suleiman / Washington Examiner

Schmerber's agreement with the state allows him to turn over those who trespass after they have entered the United States from Mexico.

“If somebody goes onto a ranch and they jump the fence, that's going to be a state charge now because of trespassing,” Schmerber said. “If they go into a house, they’re going to have another charge for breaking into private property.”

Traffickers, drug smugglers, or illegal immigrants who are caught trespassing on private property will now be prosecuted by the county attorney on the state charge of criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge. County and state officials cannot charge someone on federal immigration charges, though drug and human smugglers could face additional charges.

Maverick County’s limited jail space amid the pandemic was also a concern for Schmerber. Under the agreement, detainees will be transported to Val Verde County, where law enforcement has an outdoor processing facility for the region. From there, they are transported to a county jail in Dilley, Texas.

In return for its cooperation, Maverick County will receive $1.6 million to cover additional border security-related costs. Schmerber plans to spend the money hiring more deputies, vehicles, and equipment. He said he hopes the tougher approach in Maverick County sends would-be criminals to other parts of the border away from his backyard.

Texas has deployed 10,000 state troopers from the Department of Public Safety and National Guard soldiers to the border since March to help Border Patrol as illegal immigrant encounters dramatically rose after President Joe Biden took office. But the troopers and soldiers standing guard in Humvees and SUVs between downtown Eagle Pass and the Rio Grande are prompting migrants to go outside town to get across the river, he said.


The other counties that have agreed to prosecute trespassers are Brewster, Brooks, Chambers, Edwards, Kimble, Kinney, Presidio, Terrell, and Val Verde. Schmerber is awaiting the official go-ahead to begin arresting illegal immigrant trespassers and referring them for prosecution.

In fiscal year 2021, which ended in September, U.S. border authorities encountered more than 259,000 people who illegally attempted to cross the border in the Del Rio region, which includes Maverick County. A year earlier, around 40,000 people were encountered, according to federal data.