Individuals caught at the Border Patrol checkpoint in Sarita, Texas, with less than 220 pounds of marijuana may not be prosecuted after a recent decision by the federal government.
The federal government has said it is going to stop paying Kleberg County to prosecute those cases. For years, the government has reimbursed the county for prosecuting the cases, but moving forward they will no longer do so.
District Attorney John Hubert said that puts the county between a rock and hard place.
Traditionally, the process has been that, when someone has been caught at the federal checkpoint in Sarita with less than 100 kilograms of marijuana, the Kleberg County Sheriff's Department picks up the defendant, brings that individual back for detention and the case is filed locally. Hubert said that has allowed the federal government to focus its resources on bigger cases.
For years, the federal government has reimbursed Kleberg County for costs incurred during the life of the prosecution; but now, the federal government says it will no longer pay the costs tied to the case, such as transportation, detention and medical costs.
"The County's left in a really difficult spot, because on one hand, if we stop taking the cases, then we're basically creating a waypoint for the drugs moving north," Hubert said. "If we don't stop taking the cases, and the federal government doesn't reimburse us, then we're slowly bleeding the county of significant funds that can be used for other endeavors."
Hubert said that he does not want to let defendants go free, but also added that the county does not have the money to subsidize the federal government. He said the federal government is cutting the funding without realizing the implications of their funding cuts.
The Sheriff's Department said this could open the door and create a local hub for the criminal element, and lead to an increase in drug trafficking.
Kleberg County Judge Juan Escobar said it would cost the County half a million dollars per year to continue to prosecute these checkpoint cases -- money that he says the County doesn't have.
Escobar said the County would have to either sell property or raise taxes on its citizens in order to afford those costs, and the judge said there are lots of other needs the County has, such as repairing its deteriorating courthouse, which is 100 years old. It would cost millions of dollars to fix.
Judge Escobar added that taxes would also have to be raised to pay for those repairs, but that the issue will have to be put before the voters.
"Hopefully they say yes. If they say no, so be it. We'll continue the way we are, until it falls apart. It will fall apart. It will fall down on us. It's already falling, and it will fall on top of us, and there's nothing we can do. It's something that is going to come," Escobar said. "It's just like getting old. You can't change that."
Escobar said that previous leadership left Kleberg County broke, and that is the shape the County was in when he took office at the beginning of 2011.