SPECIAL REPORT: Deadly Journey North, A Rancher's Tale


POSTED: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 10:11am

UPDATED: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 2:50pm

Just how far out of the way will undocumented immigrants got to get into the United States, Matt Fernandez visits a ranch in Brooks County where the owner says immigrants risk their lives for a better life.

Lavoyger Durham, El Tule Ranch Manager, "I have picked up 23 or 24 dead illegals in the past 24 years, I  have been here."

Lavoyger Durham is a ranch manager at the El Tule Ranch in Brooks County, the property is 13,000 acres and located west of Falfurrias. It's a path many undocumented immigrants coming from as far as Central America and Mexico to head north to cities like Houston.

Durham says once they cross the Rio Grande river, in McAllen they get picked up and are dropped off near the ranch, to avoid the Border Patrol checkpoints, like the one in Falfurrias.

The undocumented must walk around that checkpoint and take a grueling walk though the ranch property, Lavoyger Durham, "They walk 35 miles to Highway 285."

Durham says in the winter he can see between 250 to 300 undocumented immigrants walking through Brooks County in a day and that number increases to 400 to 500 in the summer. He has interviewed some of them who have come by his house.

One teenager, from El Salvador, who paid more than $4,000 to follow a coyote in hopes of getting to Houston, "He has been walking for three days, there were eighteen of them the coyote got mad and abandoned them and left them there and he took off while they were asleep everybody was trying to find him and nobody succeeded there are sixteen to seventeen still out there. See my lights on my house, that's the reason he is here."

Many don't make it to their final destination, in Brooks County last year there were a total of 97 undocumented immigrant deaths and in in 2012 one hundred and twenty nine deaths were reported.

Brooks County Deputy Chief Benny Martinez and his deputies respond to most of those deaths, "They get themselves injured or get themselves sick and they are left behind. It's sad because that is someone's dad, someone's mom, nephew, what the case might be."

On the ranch Durham set up four water stations throughout the ranch. Inside are these gallon water jugs for the undocumented.

Lavoyger Durham, "I want to save lives. I don't want them to die at the El Tule ranch, the real reason I put it here is because it's a heavily used trail and it's also because we picked up three dead people and that's why I put it here."

If the undocumented are successful on their 35 mile trek they will make it to a set of trees next to Highway 285, Lavoyger Durham, "You can see how much stuff the undocumented immigrants leave behind in this area. Here is a water jug they use on their journey some clothes and a backpack. Before they jump in a van or a Suburban they have to lighten it up and throw all the stuff away so they will all fit, it might be 15 to 20."

Over the years, Durham had collected some of the undocumented belongings left behind and placed in this container.

Durham says it's a way of life does not expect these undocumented immigrants to stop trying to cross illegally.

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