(The Center Square) – The leaders of another Texas county have declared an invasion after the county judge’s family members were killed by a human smuggler.
This Christmas was “the first Christmas without them. It is very difficult. We’re getting through it one day at a time,” Crockett County Judge Francisco “Frank” Tambunga said of his sister-in-law and her granddaughter.
“You look at things differently now,” he told The Center Square.
Tambunga, who has deep ties to the community, was a county commissioner for 30 years. He was elected judge in November 2022 and took office in January 2023.
Two months later, tragedy struck his family. On March 13, his sister-in-law, 70-year-old Maria Tambunga, and her 7-year-old granddaughter, Emilia, were killed in a head-on collision by a human smuggler. Emelia loved karate and was a green belt, he said.
“She loved to talk. Maria was there for anyone, very caring,” he said.
The smuggler was driving more than 100 mph, heading north from the border, crossing county lines from Pecos County into Crockett County, with a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper in pursuit. The driver was smuggling 11 illegal foreign nationals in his pickup truck.
Maria and Emilia “were coming back from playing with cousins at a football field and went to Dairy Queen to get an ice cream cone,” he said. “On the way back home, they were hit head on by high-speed chase coming from Pecos County. As they were coming down the off ramp, the light turned green at the intersection of 163 and 15th street,” he said. As they began to move, the smuggler ran a red light right into them, killing them instantly.
Those being smuggled were stuck inside the crushed truck and law enforcement officers worked to get them out, the judge said. The offender is currently in jail.
“All we have left is two little crosses where they passed away,” Tambunga told The Center Square.
“It was hard for us. I was the one who had to tell my brother what happened to his wife and granddaughter. That was a bad experience I hope no one has to go through. It can happen anywhere.”
Last month, on Nov. 3, all county commissioners and Judge Tambunga signed an invasion declaration, calling for additional measures to secure the border.
Similar to other resolutions counties have signed, it cites the invasion clauses of the U.S. Constitution, Articles IV, Section 4, which require the federal government to protect each state against invasion. It also cites Article IV, Section 7 of the Texas Constitution, which states the governor has the legal authority to command Texas military forces and call them up to “suppress insurrection and to repel invasions.”
It also points to the work of Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star. OLS officers are working to interdict “smuggling of drugs, weapons, and cartel-trafficked people into Texas” and to “prevent, detect, and interdict transnational criminal activity between ports of entry” at the southern border. It also cites the unprecedented number of illegal foreign nationals OLS officers have apprehended.
It cites the unprecedented number of illegal border crossers entering the U.S. since January 2021. This number now totals over 10 million, with over 1.9 million in Texas alone, The Center Square exclusively reported.
“The invasion is unsustainable and threatens the lives of our citizens,” the resolution states. “Counties and states cannot absorb the socio-economic costs and criminal impact resulting from illegal immigration and an unsecure and open border.”
Judge Tambunga said Crockett County is “experiencing a lot of border issues with human smuggling.” There are currently five alleged smugglers being held in the county jail, he said. “And they keep on coming. They know where they’re going. It’s a never-ending cycle. It’s costing taxpayers a lot of money.”
“The county jail budget went over a couple hundred thousand dollars” as a result of human smugglers being caught, he said. “It’s something we don’t plan for or budget for. They aren’t taking care of the border [referring to the federal government] and our communities are experiencing a hardship.”
Crockett County, named after Davey Crockett, the beloved hero who fell at the Alamo, is the eighth largest county geographically in Texas. It’s primarily an agricultural, ranching community but a good number of its 3,500 residents also work in the oil and natural gas industry, Tambunga said.
The county lies directly north of the border counties of Pecos, Terrell and Val Verde. Like them, residents are increasingly reporting break-ins and illegal trespassing, he said.
In the 30-plus year’s he’s been in elected office, he said, “We’ve never seen anything like this. They have to come through our county to go north.”
The county also added another ambulance to deal with the influx of people and traffic accidents as a result of high-speed chases and bailouts.
Judge Tambunga said it was important that the county declare an invasion “to make sure people are aware. A lot of counties are having problems, and we need to be heard.
“Anyone who says there’s no border crisis has never been to a county that’s experiencing the problems we are having,” he said. “The border crisis is real. It’s here.”
Crockett county joins 46 others that have declared an invasion: Atascosa, Burnet, Chambers, Clay, Collin, Ector, Edwards, Ellis, Fannin, Franklin, Frio, Goliad, Hamilton, Hardin, Harrison, Hood, Hunt, Jack, Jasper, Johnson, Karnes, Kinney, La Salle, Lavaca, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Madison, McMullen, Medina, Montague, Navarro, Orange, Parker, Presidio, Shackelford, Somervell, Terrell, Throckmorton, Tyler, Van Zandt, Waller, Wharton, Wichita, Wilson, and Wise.