The Oldfather family said they understand the complex issues surrounding undocumented immigration in South Texas and the need for increased border security, but they do not believe a wall will help.
Their ranch is named "Rancho Padreviejo" and it is located in Carrizo, Springs, Texas. The family said the property is only 10 miles from the United States border with Mexico.
“Border patrol told us that hundreds of illegal immigrants are passing through our property every day,” Matt Oldfather, a senior in TCU’s ranch management program, said.
Oldfather swiped through photos of dead deer in an iPhone album titled “Carrizo” and buried within memories of past hunting trips was a photo of at least 20 backpacks piled underneath a mesquite tree.
Matt Oldfather sits on the ground at Rancho Padreviejo in Carrizo Springs, Texas, surrounded with trash and personal belongings left under a tree by undocumented immigrants. Photo taken by Mike Oldfather, December 21, 2016.
“This is from Christmas break,” Oldfather said. “They’ve been pouring in even more since the election.”
Oldfather said the backpacks were remnants of a group of undocumented immigrants who used the chaparral landscape to pass undetected into the United States.
He shook his head and stared down at the screen.
Oldfather, a “die-hard conservative,” said he voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election primarily because of his concerns regarding border security near his ranch.
Despite Trump’s campaign promise to “build a wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border, Oldfather said that securing the southern border is more complicated than President Trump and other politicians suggest.
“Look,” Oldfather said, “I may have voted for Trump but I still think he’s an asshole.”
Oldfather said he and his family have encountered undocumented immigrants on their property dozens of times. For the most part, Oldfather said the immigrants are thirsty and ask for water.
“I always keep a couple extra water bottles on me, just in case,” Oldfather said.
Oldfather said he became more concerned about his family’s safety after his father returned to their ranch house to find a shattered window and a stranger sleeping on the couch.
“He had his feet up on the table, watching TV like he owned the damn place,” Mike Oldfather said.
“I ran back to my truck, grabbed my gun, and went inside to wake him up.”
The elder Oldfather said the man was Hispanic and had tattoos all over his upper body, including a large “MS-13” marking in the center of his chest.
“I made him clean up the glass from the window he broke while I waited for border patrol to show up half-an-hour later,” Oldfather said.
“I’m just glad he was asleep when I pulled up.”
According to the U.S. Border Patrol website, The Carrizo Springs station is responsible for covering about 30 square miles of the border, including several major highways that lead to Mexico.
The El Indio Highway runs behind the ranch and its close proximity makes the property a hot spot for “coyotes”—the high-paid smugglers responsible for picking up undocumented immigrants once they make it to Texas.
The elder Oldfather said there was a “big difference in safety between living on a ranch and living on a ranch and living on a ranch near the border.”
“I never go out into the pasture without a gun and always sleep with one nearby,” the younger Oldfather said.
The Oldfather’s said they have never encountered a smuggler or undocumented immigrant with a weapon but the mere possibility of such a confrontation “keeps [them] on their toes.”
Photo of undocumented immigrant asking for directions to town, taken by Matt Oldfather while sitting in a deer blind at Rancho Padreviejo in Carrizo Springs, TX, January 1, 2016.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and about 2 million living in Texas.
As part of an initiative to stop unauthorized entry into Texas, U.S. Border Patrol relies on the area ranchers to act as a “liaison” in addition to local law enforcement agencies to assist in the station’s enforcement actions.”
However, Matt Oldfather said the policy puts ranchers in a difficult position.
“We don’t want border patrol driving all over the pasture just messing up all the fences,” Oldfather said.
“If we see any illegals we usually keep our distance unless they seem dangerous,” Oldfather said, adding that the “most annoying” part about unauthorized use of their property is having to clean up their trash and backpacks left at the “pick-up spots” where undocumented immigrants wait to be picked up.
An even greater cause of concern, Matt Oldather said, is Donald Trump’s proposed “border wall” and plans for “mass deportations” of undocumented immigrants because of the effects it would have on the agriculture industry in Texas.
Undocumented immigrants play an important role in ranching, Oldfather said, a lesson he learned first-hand from his experience working on a ranch in West Texas last summer.
Oldfather said he worked for a cattle operation in West Texas and his job was “no-joke.”
“The crew was out there every day from eight in the morning to five in the evening, working in 100 degree weather,” Oldfather said.
He said that many of his coworkers were undocumented immigrants who came to the United States to earn money to send home to their families in Mexico.
“The work was brutal but I had some hard workers with me that I had to keep up with,” Oldfather said.
He said his experience working at the cattle operation changed his opinion on immigration because it made him realize how valuable undocumented immigrants are to the agricultural industry.
According to the Pew Research Center for Hispanic Trends, approximately 8 million undocumented immigrants were part of the U.S. workforce in 2014—roughly 71 percent of the total undocumented immigrant population.
The same study found that undocumented immigrants living in Texas make up 9 percent of the state’s total workforce and 3 percent of the agriculture workforce.
Oldfather said his coworkers were not the “bad hombres” President Trump talked about.
Despite his newfound understanding of undocumented immigrants, Oldfather said there is still a vast majority of politicians that have been “wrongly informed,” including his older brother, Eric.
Matt Oldfather’s brother Eric runs political campaigns for republican representatives at the state and federal level. He lives in the state capital Austin, Texas, which happens to be a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants.
“Sanctuary cities” offer refuge to undocumented immigrants in fear of deportation by refusing to cooperate with law enforcement seeking information to carry out deportations.
Eric Oldfather said he shares many of the same concerns about safety that his younger brother and father expressed.
He said he is “less sympathetic” towards “illegal aliens” than his brother, but he said he still disagreed with the “border wall” proposal because it would not be worth the estimated $21 billion price tag.
“That money would essentially be wasted,” Eric Oldfather said.
The wall currently in place near the southern-most tip of Texas along the Rio Grande river proved itself to be an “ineffective hassle” because of constant maintenance repairs and the fact that it does not stop undocumented immigration.
“They just climb right over it,” he said, “And I read somewhere that wall or fence or whatever it is was breached 9,000 time last year.”
Instead of funneling the money into an “impossible project,” Eric Oldfather wants that budget to go toward adding to border patrol’s “feet on the ground” operations and “improving technology” available to the department.
Border Patrol officers parked and exited their vehicle after losing a group of undocumented immigrants during a chase that ended at Rancho Padreviejo in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Photo taken by Matt Oldfather, November 24, 2015.
Matt Oldfather said he agreed with Eric’s stance on increasing the border patrol budget and he hoped the Trump Administration would realize the impracticality of the “deportation force” and the “border wall.”
“I think we should make it easier for illegal immigrants coming here to work,” Matt Olfather said.
Oldfather said “the good ones who work and help the industry shouldn’t be kicked out” because the ranching business and “the whole Texas economy” relies on their hard work.
“They might as well get their citizenship.”