CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — Mario Carranza has set up a mobile home on a $28,000 lot in Colony Ridge, one of Texas’ largest neighborhoods, lured by cheap land and the ability for his family to escape to the crime that he said was going on around their apartment. in neighboring Houston.
“Everything is fine here,” said Carranza, 65, who now drives about an hour to his maintenance job in suburban Houston.
But his quiet neighborhood is now in the national spotlight. For weeks in Texas, conservative media and Republican activists have made baseless claims that Colony Ridge has become a magnet for immigrants living in the United States illegally and that cartels control pockets of the neighborhood.
There is no evidence to support these claims, and residents, local authorities and the developer dispute the representations. The unsubstantiated reports spread quickly and gained traction among Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president.
Attention has abruptly plunged Liberty County — a Republican stronghold that former President Donald Trump won by nearly 80% in 2020 — into the center of immigration policy hundreds of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border . Republicans see immigration as a central issue in next year’s elections, and the unsubstantiated reports come at a time when large groups of Central and South American migrants are crossing the border into Texas .
The developer of Colony Ridge is Trey Harris, who has donated more than $1 million to Abbott’s campaigns. Driving around the district in a white Ford pickup truck Tuesday, Harris deplored the claims and invited lawmakers to see for themselves this week.
“I’m surprised and a little disappointed that Abbott didn’t try to find out more about the facts before he went on national television and started talking,” Harris said.
Spokespeople for Abbott did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday. Abbott previously said “serious concerns” had been raised about Colony Ridge and suggested lawmakers could consider the issue when they return for a special session starting Monday.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, DeSantis wrote last month: “I’m going to end it. »
The laws do not prohibit non-US citizens from purchasing a home. Although many Liberty County residents acknowledge that undocumented citizens live in Colony Ridge, they rejected claims that they represented most residents and described their community as no different from many Texas neighborhoods.
“It bothers me that people accuse my clients of being drug dealers, cartels and organized crime. Come on man,” Harris said. “These are families who want a better place to raise their children. They want better schools for their children. They want better opportunities for their children”
The project began 20 years ago, leaving some Liberty County residents perplexed about the timing of the recent scrutiny. The region neighbors San Jacinto County, where in April a Mexican national allegedly killed five of his Honduran neighbors. Harris said he believed some of the criticism was related to “racial issues” that Colony Ridge had already faced from a city adjacent to the rapidly growing development, which he said has about 40,000 residents.
Zayda Cerrato, 43, moved to Colony Ridge from California about six years ago at the urging of an uncle who lived there. She said she was drawn there in part because of the greenery and vegetation surrounding the development, which was carved out of the pine woods that cover East Texas.
Some residents, like Cerrato, originally from Honduras, have installed mobile homes on their land. Others built permanent homes with manicured lawns that wouldn’t be out of place in a typical suburban subdivision. Harris said the community continues to grow and has several new schools. New shopping centers that will include businesses such as Pizza Hut and Subway also dot the development.
“My life here is very peaceful. I don’t mess with anyone,” Cerrato said while leaving a supermarket. “From my work to my house, from my house to my work. I only visit stores when I need to. I would describe it as very peaceful.
The region’s explosive growth has not come without challenges. The nearby Cleveland-based school district teaches nearly three times as many students as it did a decade ago and is struggling to create enough space. The local sheriff’s office says it needs more officers to patrol the area, but describes crime rates as no worse than other parts of Texas.
“These are normal calls. It’s just the volume is higher,” said Billy Knox, chief deputy with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.
For Carranza, a native of Mexico who became a naturalized citizen a decade ago, increasing traffic has left some streets in disrepair.
If Abbott wants to address anything about Colony Ridge, this should be it, he said.
“Tell the governor to come here so he can fix the streets,” Carranza said.
___ Weber reported from Austin, Texas.
The spelling of the Florida governor’s name was corrected in the 9th paragraph from DeSanits to DeSantis.