EAGLE PASS, Texas (Border Report) — Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber says his deputies work double assisting federal and state authorities with migrants who enter the country illegally, as well as keeping his South Texas community safe.
“My deputies are working to stop vehicles with smuggling of aliens, they’re picking up aliens, immigrants. It’s a double job. It’s a lot of stress on my deputies,” Schmerber told Border Report.
Schmerber sat down with Border Report on Tuesday at his office in Eagle Pass, Texas. The area is part of the Del Rio Sector, which in July surpassed the Rio Grande Valley Sector for having the most migrant encounters in a single month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported.
The sheriff reflected on the toll that the recent drowning of nine migrants has had on his deputies, as well as all of the rescues and body recoveries they have done for the past six weeks.
“It’s really very hard on my deputies,” said Schmerber, 70, a former Border Patrol watch commander.
“We’ve seen a lot of what we call ‘floaters’ — people who drown and they float in the river. One time we found eight individuals floating in the river. They drowned upriver and end up floating down to the port of entry here,” he said.
Schmerber is halfway through his third, four-year term, and although he is at retirement age, he says he plans to run for “one more term.” He says he just can’t leave his force right now as illegal migration has surged here this past year.
“We’re supposed to be taking care, my priority, is the criminal element — that security for the county,” he said. “But now we’re doing two jobs. We’re doing what we’re supposed to do to secure the county and we have the immigration problem now.”
He says he believes he is uniquely qualified to lead his troops, having worked for Border Patrol for 26 years, many in Presidio, Texas, and many here in his hometown of Eagle Pass.
Through grants from Operation Lone Star — the Texas state-funded immigration initiative — he says he has been able to hire 10 additional deputies, including one more deputy constable for each of the county’s four constables.
His department also gets federal funds from Operation Stonegarden, which pays overtime and helps with equipment and fuel costs for local law enforcement to help Border Patrol patrol the riverbanks.
But he says it isn’t enough.
With 74 miles of riverfront border in Maverick County, he says his deputies are stretched thin. If they encounter a migrant it takes them away from policing the vast region, he said.
Nearly 30,000 residents live in Eagle Pass; the remaining 28,000 live in the vast county that borders Piedras Negras, Mexico.
Plus, he said there is an emotional toll they are suffering from so many recent drownings and near-drownings.
In mid-August, his deputies came upon the body of a dead 3-year-old whose uncle slipped while carrying him and his 4-year-old brother across the Rio Grande here, he said.
CBP reported that Aug. 17, three bodies were recovered from the river here in a span of four hours.
“It’s hard when they saw that little baby, just 3 years old and he drowned. They tried to give him CPR and he died,” Schmerber said. “The uncle was carrying two babies. He stumbled and he let loose of the kids. One drowned and the other made it. He was in critical condition in San Antonio, but he made it. But it’s those things that really have an effect on the individual deputies. They’re human beings. They’re family men. It affects them — maybe not right away but later on.”
The solution, the sheriff says, is for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to enact a “zero-tolerance policy.”
“They can wait in their own countries,” Schmerber said.