Mario Carranza chose to place a mobile home on a $28,000 lot in the expansive Colony Ridge neighborhood of Texas. He was enticed by the affordable land and the opportunity for his family to escape the rampant crime that plagued their previous apartment in nearby Houston.
Carranza, now 65, commutes about an hour to his maintenance job in a Houston suburb from his tranquil neighborhood in Colony Ridge. However, this peaceful community has recently found itself thrust into an unwelcome national spotlight. For weeks, conservative media and GOP activists in Texas have been promoting unsubstantiated claims that Colony Ridge has become a magnet for immigrants residing in the U.S. without proper documentation, and that cartels hold sway over certain areas of the neighborhood.
Despite the lack of concrete evidence supporting these claims, they have spread rapidly and gained traction among Republicans, including Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has presidential aspirations. This unexpected attention has put Liberty County, a Republican stronghold where former President Donald Trump secured nearly 80% of the vote in 2020, at the epicenter of immigration politics, hundreds of miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans view immigration as a pivotal issue in the upcoming elections, and these unverified reports are emerging as large groups of migrants from Central and South America are crossing into Texas.
Colony Ridge’s developer is Trey Harris, who has donated over $1 million to Governor Abbott’s political campaigns. While driving around the neighborhood in a white Ford pickup, Harris expressed his dismay at the unfounded claims and invited lawmakers to visit and witness the truth for themselves.
“I’m surprised and somewhat disappointed that Governor Abbott didn’t make an effort to gather the facts before appearing on national television to discuss this,” Harris lamented.
Although Abbott’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment, the governor has called on lawmakers to address “areas like the Colony Ridge development” in a special legislative session beginning next week, though he has not provided specific proposals.
It’s important to note that there are no laws preventing non-U.S. citizens from purchasing homes. While many in Liberty County acknowledge the presence of undocumented residents in Colony Ridge, they refute the assertion that these individuals constitute the majority of residents. They describe their community as no different from many other neighborhoods across Texas.
Harris passionately defended the community, stating, “It bothers me that people accuse my customers of being involved in drug dealing, cartels, or organized crime. These are families seeking a better place to raise their children, better schools, and improved opportunities.”
The development of Colony Ridge commenced 20 years ago, leaving some Liberty County residents perplexed by the recent scrutiny. The area shares a border with San Jacinto County, where, in April, a Mexican national allegedly killed five of his Honduran neighbors. Harris believes that some of the criticism is rooted in “racial issues” that Colony Ridge has previously faced from a neighboring town. He estimates that Colony Ridge is now home to approximately 40,000 residents and continues to grow.
Zayda Cerrato, a 43-year-old from Honduras, moved to Colony Ridge from California about six years ago at her uncle’s encouragement. She was attracted to the community, in part, because of the lush greenery and vegetation that envelops the development, carved out from the East Texas piney woods.
Residents like Cerrato have established mobile homes on their plots, while others have constructed permanent homes with well-kept lawns that wouldn’t look out of place in a typical suburban subdivision. Harris noted that the community is expanding and includes new schools. Retail centers, featuring businesses like Pizza Hut and Subway, are also popping up throughout the development.
“My life here is very peaceful. I don’t bother anyone,” Cerrato explained while leaving a supermarket. “From my job to my house, from my house to my job. I only visit stores when I need to. I would describe it as very peaceful.”
Despite the area’s explosive growth, challenges have emerged. The school district based in nearby Cleveland is now educating nearly three times as many students as it did a decade ago and has struggled to create adequate space. The local sheriff’s office has requested more officers to patrol the region but maintains that crime rates are not higher than in other parts of Texas.
“It’s the usual calls; it’s just that the volume is higher,” said Billy Knox, chief deputy of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office.
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For Carranza, who hails from Mexico and became a naturalized citizen a decade ago, the increased traffic has caused some streets to deteriorate. If Governor Abbott wants to address something about Colony Ridge, Carranza suggests that it should be the state of the roads.
“Tell the governor to come here so he can fix the streets,” Carranza urged.