NPR logo

County on Mexican Border Stretches Resources

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
County on Mexican Border Stretches Resources

County on Mexican Border Stretches Resources

County on Mexican Border Stretches Resources

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Val Verde County, Texas, is on the front line in U.S. efforts to stem illegal immigration. Police in the border town confront everything from working migrants to heavily-armed drug runners. The county jail, stuffed with federally captured migrants, has little room for anyone else. Michele Norris talks with D'Wayne Jernigan, the county sheriff.


As sheriff of Val Verde County, Texas, D'Wayne Jernigan deals with the problems along the border every day. He spent three decades working there. His jail is filled with migrants and drug runners captured by federal border agents. And in March, he testified before Congress on the need for more funding and tighter controls at the border.

After hearing the president's proposal to bring in the National Guard, Sheriff Jernigan says he's hopefully optimistic.

Sheriff D'WAYNE JERNIGAN (Sheriff, Val Verde County, Texas): Certainly they can give us additional eyes on the border, particularly in assisting the Border Patrol, and the local sheriffs and police department. You know, 6,000 troops spread out on various shifts could certainly add more eyes to the border and report what they're seeing. They can also assist in building roads and bridges that we need for access for the vehicles for the Border Patrol and for your sheriff's officers along the border.

NORRIS: Sheriff, could you paint a picture for us of Val Verde? What's your stretch of the border look like?

Sheriff JERNIGAN: You've seen the pictures of Afghanistan? That's what it looks like out here in the, our terrain is so similar to Afghanistan's. And I've never been to Afghanistan. But the pictures I've seen that the press gives us on TV, golly, I look at it and go, my God, that's Val Verde County. Remote. No major population centers. Wide open for anyone to cross. Hot. Dry. Certainly not a place you want to be walking 100 miles across with no water.

NORRIS: But that's exactly what people do.

Sheriff JERNIGAN: That's exactly what people do. And I certainly don't want to see the aliens having to confront that. I'd rather see some sort of logical process that, if they're going to enter this country, I think we should set in some kind of process that would at least cause them not to think about walking across this desert. It is quite rugged. Lots of hills and valleys and canyons, snakes and tarantulas and all kinds of creepy creatures and it's certainly not a friendly environment.

NORRIS: Where and how do people slip across that border?

Sheriff JERNIGAN: Well in our county, we have 109 miles bordering Mexico. That entire border is made up of the Rio Grande River or the Rio Bravo River as it's referred to in Mexico. Many times that river, depending upon the amount of water being released from the Amistad Dam, which is here in our county, if the amount of water they're releasing is low, then you can walk across the river, you know, and scarcely get the heels of your shoes wet. But if they're letting large amounts of water out, of course you can drown just trying to cross this river.

NORRIS: So in order to cross over in Val Verde, you have to go through water?

Sheriff JERNIGAN: Yes, ma'am.

NORRIS: This is a case where a fence might not make a difference.

Sheriff JERNIGAN: A fence would be ridiculous in this county. It would make no sense whatsoever, Michele. I simply cannot see any logical person proposing a fence in Val Verde County. No way. Number one, I don't see the landowners willingly giving up their properties in order to have a fence built to block their view. It would be a major political blunder for the politicians to push a fence in this county.

NORRIS: One of the more controversial aspects of border control is something called the catch and release program. I'd like to talk to you about that. Meaning, the release of migrants who cannot be easily or immediately deported to their home countries, migrants who are coming from countries other than Mexico. So-called OTMs.

Right now, what happens when border agents or one of your deputies captures someone who enters the country, enters your county illegally, who's from a country other than Mexico, someone who cannot be easily just handed over to authorities on the other side of the border back in Mexico?

Sheriff JERNIGAN: Thanks to an initiative by the Border Patrol, we have dramatically reduced from several thousand a month to probably less than 100 a month OTMs entering through our, at least myself and a couple of neighboring counties. It's dropped to almost nothing because any OTM entering now is being prosecuted. They're not being given the papers and released as they were in the past. And my hat's off to the Border Patrol for taking that stance over the last 30 days or whatever it is.

NORRIS: So this is brand new?

Sheriff JERNIGAN: Oh, it's very recent.

NORRIS: Now as I understand, that's a big change because you've testified that in the past your deputies would literally have to take migrants to the bus station, put them on buses and send them on their way.

Sheriff JERNIGAN: That was happening. But that's not happening now.

NORRIS: So when the president in his address on Monday night said, the catch and release program will end, it sounds like it has ended in Val Verde.

Sheriff JERNIGAN: In Val Verde County. I understand it hasn't in a lot of the, most of the other counties. But here, the Border Patrol chief here has worked very closely with me and it has definitely made an impact here.

NORRIS: Sheriff Jernigan, it's been good talking to you. Thanks so much.

Sheriff JERNIGAN: Yes, ma'am, Michele. Have a great day, ma'am.

NORRIS: D'Wayne Jernigan is the sheriff of Val Verde, Texas.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.