On the high north bank of the Rio Grande River, an uninhabited home overlooks the river. Our small group — members of the Border Security Coalition who traveled to Val Verde County to see the border crisis for ourselves — stood on a pleasant green landing near the property, but we weren’t allowed to enter. Located anywhere else, this house would be a hot commodity.

But not here. The river at this site is broad and calm enough that it’s a popular crossing spot for migrants. The migrants render the property unsafe. At best, they knock on the door and request food and water, and at worst they rob the place. It’s more the latter than the former. We were allowed to see it from beyond the property line, but we weren’t allowed to enter. The Texas Rangers were present. A coyote — human trafficker — on the other side of the river has been managing the crossings. He’s effective and good at his task. The Rangers were working on shutting him down — no need to divulge how here — and we couldn’t be present for that.

Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez cited the Migrant Protection Protocols (the “remain-in-Mexico” policy) imposed by the Trump administration as a rare example of D.C.-driven immigration success, tremendously helpful in keeping illegal crossings down. We told him that the Biden administration had revoked the policy just 24 hours before. No one had told the sheriff. No one in the vast federal apparatus bothered to communicate major policy changes to the local law enforcement men and women on the front line.

Our visit to the border last week was a fact-finding trip. The facts and the faces filled out the statistics we have all been hearing—that illegal immigration is surging to levels not seen in more than a decade. It’s taking a toll on this remote South Texas county.

We visited a spot where migrants emerge into the interior of a nice residential neighborhood in Del Rio. There’s an arroyo leading from the river into the development. Migrants follow it, and come out of the cane and grasses into what is otherwise a pleasant place for families and kids. Some days back, a babysitter answered a knock on the front door. It was a man who had just crossed the river, asking for water. She gave it to him, and he left. Then, having established that only a young woman and children were present, he broke in through the back door. This kind of thing happens, and you get used to stories like it. But you shouldn’t. Getting used to it is the wrong reaction.

We also spoke with a woman who was a native of Mexico City. She emigrated — legally — to the United States decades ago, spent a career in Austin, and then came to Del Rio to retire. Del Rio is familiar to her; it reminds her of where she grew up, but it’s also in Texas, which she loves. Because of the steady flow of migrants coming through her modest property, she now owns eight large dogs. That’s how I met her. As I walked by her fence line, three of her dogs — two German shepherds, and one mix — came charging toward me with ill intent. She called them off, and we talked. She’s appalled at what’s happening. Her neighbors are moving away because of it. It’s a family with four daughters aged 14 and under. One day, while the kids were playing in the yard, they spotted a group of men, just out of the river, waiting — and watching their girls. They aren’t going to wait for policy to get right. They’re leaving.

Val Verde County has seen about 94,000 illegal-crossing apprehensions in this calendar year. Some math is illustrative here. Assume the same rate for the year, and you’ve got maybe 188,000 apprehensions for this year. The rule of thumb, we were told over and over, is that only about 20% of crossers are caught. If that is true — and you have to remember these are estimates only — it would mean just over three-quarters of a million illegal migrants will have gotten away and into the American interior by the end of this year. That’s just via Val Verde County, Texas. Imagine those numbers. Imagine what they do in the long run.

On the second day of the trip, a very nice woman at a ranch cooked us breakfast. Her business is taking care of several area ranch houses in Val Verde County. She loves it, loves the wide-open spaces, loves the people who come to this forgotten corner of Texas. For years she has lived in her own little property in an out-of-the-way spot near Comstock. Comstock is so small it makes Del Rio look like New York City, which is exactly why some folks like to be there. But she can’t be there anymore. Her home — her life’s work — has been trashed repeatedly by migrants who break and enter. They aren’t the virtuous poor looking for bread and water. They break in, she tells us, they steal things, they urinate on the floors, and they empty out the refrigerator and freezer. They don’t take all that food. They dump what they don’t want in the living room and out front to spoil. This has happened a couple of times, and she complained — as she ought — to law enforcement. Eventually, she was visited by the Border Patrol, and was told, she said, “We can’t protect you. You should move.”

Who are the migrants? If you’re my generation or older, you probably think they’re mostly Mexicans looking for work. That used to be true, but not now. The migrants now are rarely Mexican. We visited a migrant waystation and saw it for ourselves: Haitians and Argentinians, or so they said, awaiting passage inland. The migrants today are South Americans, Caribbean islanders, and Africans. Places like Venezuela, Haiti, and the African nations along the Gulf of Guinea and the western Sahel send people into the small Texas communities of Val Verde County. These are stupefying multi-year voyages, involving some sort of Atlantic passage, a crossing of the treacherous Darién Gap, navigation up the Central American isthmus, and passage through the hellish landscape of Mexican crime and murder.

Some migrants are well-funded, which might deserve further inquiry, and some of them scrape by on wits and desperation. To get robbed and raped along the way is common coin. Nearly every child subjected to the passage will be brutalized. There is nothing laudable about it, and the people who facilitate and profit from it deserve extirpation from society. Back in the days of widespread oceanic piracy, admiralty law developed a term for the pirates and their abettors: “hostis humani generis,” the “enemy of mankind,” justifying their eradication from the seas by any power or person. Modern traffickers of men, women, and children are indisputably hostis humani generis — they meet every criterion for being an enemy of mankind, and they deserve a consequent fate.

Kamala Harris flying to Guatemala City and dispensing millions to corrupt elites isn’t going to be any more effective at buying peace and order than it was when we spent 20 years trying the same thing in Afghanistan. Del Rio is the leading indicator. Eventually you get the same thing in San Antonio, and then in St. Louis, and then you’re looking at it in Appleton, Wisconsin — at which point there’s no fallback.

Who will defend these Del Rio residents we met and shared meals with? The federal government has stood down. Will Texas step up? Can they defend themselves? Should they shoot, in defense of their property, of their families, of their community? Sheriff Martinez shuts down the latter talk as best he can. He tells people they don’t want to pull the trigger on someone who just wants a glass of water. He’s completely right about that. Good people care about that, and these are good people. The men and women of Val Verde County, from law enforcement to the citizenry, over and over again expressed real compassion for the migrants — and that goodness of heart is why this situation has not been infinitely worse so far.

But so far is just so far. A handful of people shared with me that the other reason they don’t shoot is their certainty that the same government that won’t protect now them will, on the other hand, aggressively prosecute and jail them if they protect themselves. They believe the Border Patrol and law enforcement personnel of their community are on their side. But they believe the larger apparatus of the federal government is on the side of migrants and traffickers. The perception isn’t irrational. By their fruits, et cetera.

This situation in particular, where a government’s legitimacy ebbs though its own fecklessness, cannot last.

Val Verde is just one county, in just one state. But it’s a bellwether. We can ask the federal government to do its job — for nearly the first time in my lifetime — but we know how that will probably turn out. We can also ask Texas to step up — and there, the possibilities are rich. Out of options, driven from their homes, unsafe in their streets, the people of Del Rio — and the people of your own communities — deserve it.