By Hernán Rozemberg
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Craig Teplicek has farmed 3,600 acres just a few miles from the Rio Grande River since the 1980s. He’s used to illegal immigrants trekking through his land. But in the last couple of years, his sunflower fields have turned into a war zone, he lamented.
“They use our place as a getaway when they’re getting chased because it’s all sandy and caliche road,” Teplicek said. “They can get far enough ahead of the law that they’ll drive through the fence and then everybody bail out.”
The danger has increased because illegal immigration now overlaps with the drug war. Teplicek has no idea anymore who is crossing his land.
The turmoil has prompted even Todd Staples, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner — and candidate for lieutenant governor — to speak out. It’s not in his job description, he said, but he can’t look the other way when private property is being trampled.
“I was forced into this role by land owners that came to me pleading for help in order to protect them and their families and their property,” Staples said.
He has written President Obama three times in recent months. His latest dispatch argued that spillover violence is now impacting the otherwise valuable border real estate market. Abundant riverfront properties that a few years ago would have been snapped up by farmers and ranchers now sit empty.
A view of the Rio Grande River from a 445-acre ranch for sale in Hidalgo County, TX.
It’s all making realtor Terry Urdal — based in McAllen, TX less than 10 miles from the Rio Grande — throw his arms up in the air in frustration.
“Oh, it’s hurting my business a lot, yeah,” he said. “You know, I’ve got $3 million in property there on the river that I can’t sell.”
Whether it’s reality or just perception, interested buyers abruptly end the conversation as soon as they hear the land is on the banks of the Rio Grande. Urdal has five properties he hasn’t been able to sell for over a year. And that’s even after cutting the asking price by half.
One is a 500-acre beauty right next to a natural wildlife refuge.
“The property’s fantastic. It’s in the delta area, you know, that gets fertilization from the river and everything,” Urdal said. “But no one wants to risk buying it and getting in the way of the drug runners…
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