The land development company Terrenos Houston has successfully marketed owner-financed lots to tens of thousands of presumed illegal immigrants who cannot qualify for traditional bank loans. Owners then build shelters and homes of various kinds. Photo by Todd Bensman.
AUSTIN, Texas — A Mexican national is on the run after slaughtering a family of five Hondurans next door, including an 8-year-old child, in a small Texas town a two-hour drive east from here called Cleveland.
American news media report the murdered parents had asked their next-door neighbor to stop firing his semi-automatic rifle at 11 p.m. on April 29 because they were trying to put a baby to sleep. Two other children survived under the bodies of their parents, who died shielding them.
But what no media has yet reported is that this horrific crime happened in what is regarded as America’s largest settlement of illegal immigrants, one literally exploding in population amid a U.S.-government fomented mass migration border crisis. In Liberty County, and now spreading into neighboring San Jacinto County where the massacre occurred, old-timers have been fleeing a new diversity of violent crime, murder, all-night weapons firing, and cartel drug trafficking that has boomed alongside the population. Indifferent U.S. immigration enforcement agencies leave this area to itself.
My recently released book, Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History, dedicates a chapter of reporting to this massive illegal immigrant “colonia” as a warning to America about the coming consequences of an unfettered mass migration event now in its third unmitigated year that has already seen more than five million foreign nationals settle into U.S. towns and cities. Following are edited excerpts from the chapter “Forever Impacts”.
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“The originals” of Liberty County, Texas — the self-descriptor of lifelong Anglo residents like Jimmy Rollins, who trace their lineage to early settler families — have mostly fled what they regard as ruinous, irredeemable change.
Settlement in the county wilderness some 40 miles northeast of Houston dates to the 1830s and 1840s and boomed a bit when an oil field was discovered there in 1925, but still didn’t much change the cherished small-town closeness, long lonely country lanes through uninterrupted timberland, the hunting and fishing subsistence lifestyle, and tiny high school graduating classes.
Until very recently, the loggers, train mechanics, ranchers, and state prison workers made their homes in and around Liberty County’s quaint old townships carved out of dense pine forests with names like Plum Grove, Cleveland, Dayton, and Splendora. They raised each other’s barns and dug one another’s wells.
Now 72, Jimmy Rollins was still farming near Dayton when I met him in May 2022. Just like his father, who was born and lived until he was buried at age 95 in Plum Grove, Rollins recalled riding a horse every Sunday to church and to school as a kid, “barefoot until junior high”, and he raised his own family much the same way, by farming and following a rural country code of life.
“It was all country people. We got our meat out of them woods there. They was behind in time, but everybody pretty much knew everybody,” Rollins recalled. “I enjoyed living here.”
Shacks in Colony Ridge. Photo by Todd Bensman.
A vast jumble of single- and double-wide trailers on low stilts, hand-hewn shacks made of leftover construction material, and parked motor homes has quickly overtaken tens of thousands of Liberty County acres and eradicated its rural way of life. The community is named “Colony Ridge”. Upwards of 50,000 mostly Spanish-speaking Latinos, maybe more — nobody knows, really — are living on some 30,000 homestead lots they purchased in recent years over some 35 square miles from “Houston Terrenos”, the land development company started by an “original” named William Henry “Trey” and his brother John Harris a decade earlier.
The boom began without letup about a decade ago when Houston Terrenos, on Spanish-language media platforms with international reach, began marketing lot purchases with its unique “owner-to-owner method” that didn’t require traditional bank loans, proven job history, or Social Security numbers.
A significant portion of the new population that bought Terrenos lots are illegally present, according to the settlers themselves, local police, school officials, teachers, and other residents. In 2020, analyst Chuck DeVore of the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation think tank dubbed Colony Ridge “the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the United States and one of the fastest growing school districts”. DeVore figured the population of these communities is projected to reach as high as a quarter-million people, a significant percentage not legally present in the country.
Liberty County and its booming Colony Ridge development make for an apt, emblematic harbinger of the kind of change that sudden explosive growth in illegal alien population can portend for citizens and residents already living in receiving communities as a result of the Biden border crisis.
Quality of Life in Liberty County
As a former Plum Grove mayor, city councilwoman, apartment real estate developer, and proud original, Leanne Walker has waged an unremitting legal and political “war” to contain the ongoing Terrenos Houston development. She refers to this enemy as “the Kraken”, a multi-armed Octopus-like sea monster of Scandinavian sailing mythology that would drag ships to the bottom.
“I was born and raised by the forest, by the most salt-of-the-Earth people you could meet, by an original,” she told me. “My father was an original. His mother was an original. We’re all on the same land. We are called the originals of Plum Grove.”
Walker’s grievances and stories of battle with “the Kraken” are far too long to recount here, such as whether the rapid pace of development floods the towns during hard rains and allegedly poisoned rivers and the Gulf of Mexico with raw human waste.
But almost as offensive to the originals than the clear-cutting, traffic jams, and floods they blame on the ever-sprawling Colony Ridge is that the newcomers make for bad neighbors.
“The amount of gunfire that is out there would blow your mind. I have a video you can listen to on New Year’s Eve. It sounded like Falluja,” Walker recounted, moving on to, “The loud Mexican music they play from Thursday night to Sunday. They all put their music on the same f***ing station and turn it up. Our homes at one o’clock in the morning doing this ...,” Walker said, using her hand to thump the table like a drum. “And that’s why the originals all left.”
A Frightening New Diversity of Crime
Before all the change, crime mostly consisted of a few white country meth-heads, two local police investigators who work in the area told me privately.
But now the crime is so different in the view of local old-timers like Rollins and Walker that they welcomed news that their grown children would flee Liberty County.
The Rollins’ two grown children sold out in 2020 and fled with their own young families as part of an exodus of originals chasing the quiet to just about anywhere else “because of the traffic, the people, the shooting, the wrecks, and the thieving”, Rollins said.
“They got scared,” he said of the kids. “They wasn’t raised in all that.”
In June 2022, a Liberty County dog brought home a human hand, which led to the discovery of a badly decomposed body of a man who had been buried with his gun. Police couldn’t identify the corpse and were left to post photos of the clothing in hopes someone would recognize them.
In September 2022, passersby in Colony Ridge found the body of a 16-year-old Honduran girl who’d been shot to death and dumped in a ditch by the side of a road, still wearing her uniform from her work bussing tables at a local restaurant. Gang unit police arrested three foreign nationals, all under 21, and charged them with the murder of Emily Rodriguez-Avila, citing “gang overtones” as a motive. The family shipped her body back to Honduras for burial.
Some crime has proven especially twisted relative to the area’s past.
In 2020, for instance, an illegal alien from Mexico who settled in Colony Ridge chained two house cleaners to a bed and sexually assaulted them in a blackmail scheme during which he took nude photos. The nightmare ended when one of the women attempted an escape in her vehicle but didn’t make it; her assailant managed to shoot her to death and set her car on fire with her inside before fleeing back to Mexico. Border Patrol caught him trying to cross again in California a short time later.
In 2016, owners of a Colony Ridge lot who were clearing it of brush discovered the decomposing remains of a single mother of five children named Esmeralda Pargas-Nunez, 42, who’d been reported missing a month earlier. It took two years, but homicide detectives tracked down her alleged killer to Houston in 2018, another woman named Sabrina Olarosa Garcia, and charged her with murder. This was evidently part of a kidnapping scheme in Houston where the alleged murderer first lured her victim to a meeting.
Mexican Cartels Come to Town
The Gulf and Sinaloa Cartels invested in Colony Ridge from its earliest inception, they said, financing lots for local operatives to run safe houses through which they move smuggled drugs and people from the border to interior America. They were using them still to smuggle people coming in under Biden.
Evidence of cartel involvement dates to the earliest days of the illegal-alien settlement boom. To at least 2013, when federal, state, and local investigators raided a Mexican drug cartel’s marijuana grow operation on 300 acres in Liberty County, finding explosives, 6,000 marijuana plants, worker bunk houses, and guard towers. Local police at the time called it the “largest and most sophisticated marijuana-growing operation” in the county’s history.
In July 2021, the DEA broke that dubious record with the new biggest drug bust in Liberty County history with a raid that broke up a multimillion-dollar methamphetamine manufacturing lab operating inside one of the Colony Ridge dwellings.
During a recent trip, a police investigator drove me around several town neighborhoods pointing out high-end brick homes where cartel management figures lived before they were busted or moved away.
This kind of criminality grew so problematic by 2021 that the fearful town leaders of Plum Grove established a first police department that works in concert with two county-paid bilingual constables that Liberty County funded to exclusively patrol Colony Ridge.
The addition of several police officers amounts to a drop in the ocean, one officer from the region told me. Drive-by shootings, stealing, and drug trafficking are rampant, victimizing mostly the new community.
“It’s a cluster f**k over there and it’s only getting worse,” said the officer, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “It’s its own closed community out there, and the Salvadorans, Ecuadorans, South Americans ... they really clique up.”
Indeed, a five-month-long gang and narcotics investigation by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office came to a dramatic end in December 2021 with the arrest of two 15-year-old boys and a 17-year-old boy who were part of a violent drug-trafficking racket in Colony Ridge.
After three or four months where the boys would engage in gun battles with drug buyers who wouldn’t pay on time, local police had to investigate. When the day came to make arrests, the armed 17-year-old rammed a police car during a pell-mell car chase near Plum Grove, fled home, and barricaded himself in his house until a SWAT unit had to extract him and a girlfriend inside, who also was arrested amid drugs that were found.
There’s no letup in sight. In April 2023, local deputies found the bodies of two middle school students riddled with bullets in a car near Plum Grove, evidently the latest victims in a spate of drug-trafficking-related violence. Their names were Cesar Christopher Trochez-Maravilla, 15, and Adiel Garcia Aguirre, 14.
If those who committed these crimes were in the country illegally, none of this should have happened. In that vein, Liberty County also is a microcosm of a vast scale of unnecessary crime that is already here with much more on the way to communities across America.