Linda Vickers says most of the people who hike across her ranch about 70 miles north of the Mexican border try to move through quickly, quietly, and inconspicuously. They want only to circumvent the Border Patrol checkpoint nearby on Highway 281 and to rendezvous with a smuggling vehicle, which is often driven by gang members from Houston that have joined the lucrative smuggling trade.
But in the fierce heat of the South Texas summer, some knock on the door of the isolated home on the ranch her and her veterinarian husband share with a herd of cattle.
A heavily tattooed gang member showed up on Monday. The day before that it was two men from Guatemala. Last week's visitors included people from El Salvador and Honduras.
"It used to be out here that people would give them food and water and send them on their way," said Vickers. "But that was a different era. That was a different type of people that were coming here for farm and ranch work, doing their work, and then going home."
"This is not the case these days," she says, pointing to an increase in "the criminal element," within the steadily rising stream of illegal immigrant OTMs, people from countries other than Mexico.
Vickers says that when she and her husband are out checking on the cattle, they are always armed, always wary of a potential confrontation. They are so concerned that they seldom leave home for more than a few hours. "For a weekend, if we want to go somewhere, we hire somebody to stay in at night," she said.
Until recently, Vickers said, it was common to see women and children mixed in with the groups, whose size would range from a few people to several dozen. But now that word is out in Central America that the Border Patrol is releasing women and children into the United States — with the commonly ignored proviso that they appear later before an immigration court judge to present their case to stay — the women and children have no need to make the difficult hike:
"They're just giving themselves up on the border, the women and children," she said. "They don't have to risk their lives any longer."
But the men keep coming, willing to expose themselves to the brutal heat that has claimed hundreds of lives in recent years. Said Vickers: "I've been told by (Border Patrol) agents on the ground four to five hundred are entering Brooks County every 24-hour period."