Hispanic Americans living in Colony Ridge refute ‘illegal alien’ narrative

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(The Center Square) – After multiple reports alleging the Colony Ridge community located in Liberty County, roughly one hour north of Houston, is the “largest illegal alien settlement” in Texas, residents say the claims are racist and unsubstantiated.

Among the multiple residents The Center Square spoke with, several U.S. citizens and entrepreneurs said they wanted “to set the record straight.”

One of them, Cynthia Silva, of Puerto Rican descent, was born and raised in Houston and home-schools her three young children. She’s also the managing editor of El Amanecer Texas, the first Spanish-language newspaper in the county launched by the Bluebonnet News earlier this year.

Silva and her family moved to Colony Ridge from Houston after a botched police raid led to the shooting and death of two homeowners. The officer overseeing the raid was charged with murder and accused of lying to obtain a warrant. After that, Silva said they had to get out of Houston. They saved for months to make a down payment to purchase their property in Colony Ridge. They achieved the American Dream of owning their own home, she said, but were shocked when residents in the neighboring town of Plum Grove called her names using racial slurs.

“I was born and raised in the melting pot of Houston and had never experienced racism before until I moved to Liberty County,” she told The Center Square. Soon after moving in, she learned of conflict between Plum Grove city officials and the property developer and “noticed many of the people criticizing her neighborhood don’t live there.”

She began a community outreach program with young girls in the neighborhood “to build a bridge between the two communities” despite being made to feel unwelcome.

“Whenever anyone says there is no law enforcement” in Colony Ridge, she said, “there would literally be no law enforcement if the POA [Property Owners Association] wasn’t paying for it.”

Despite Colony Ridge residents paying property taxes to Liberty County, they fund their own law enforcement, contracting 10 sheriff’s deputies, as opposed to the county contracting one. There are 12 full-time officers patrolling the area, including the local constable. Combined, they total “the highest number of officers per capita in Liberty County,” the property developer told The Center Square.

“I pay property taxes like everyone else,” Silva said, and “my taxes fund a public school system that my children don’t even attend.”

“Having lived in Houston, I can attest to the fact that there are far more noncitizens living in Houston than in Liberty County,” she said. “There is far more crime in Houston than where I live. I feel safer living here than I did in Houston, which is exactly why I left.”

A greater police presence is needed for a growing community, residents argue.

In response to some news reports, Gov. Abbott sent additional state troopers to help with patrol. After touring the area on Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement on Thursday saying the state needs “to send more troopers, and the county judge and commissioners court need to budget for more deputies using some of the money they are receiving from the property tax collections from this new development, and the developer needs to hire more contract deputies.”

Patrick also said he and the governor discussed holding hearings about Colony Ridge in a few weeks when the legislature convenes for another special session to consider a school choice bill.

Karina Olivares, a chef and small business owner, told The Center Square she’s fed up with the criticism about her neighborhood. She and her family lived in and left Houston because of rampant crime and feel safer living in Colony Ridge, she told The Center Square.

Olivares said when she lived in Houston, her vehicle was stolen from her driveway. She said she also witnessed a police officer being shot and ran to assist him before the paramedics came. He didn’t survive.

“There are criminals and illegal aliens in nearly every town in America,” she said. “People here are succeeding on their own. They are building their own businesses and they’re hard workers. I’m an American citizen. We pay property taxes. We live here because we want a better future for our children and it’s safer to live here than in Houston.”

She also said outsiders making these claims are ignorant; “there’s no comparison between crime in our community or in Houston or any larger city,” she said.

Comparing crime data isn’t a direct one because Harris County is the largest county in Texas. But the comparison, residents argue, explains why they moved north. In 2022, for example, there were nearly 12,000 DWI charges in Harris County compared to 83 in Liberty County, according Texas Department of Public Safety data.

In 2021, there were 419 charges for terroristic threats against a peace officer or judge, 3,320 charges for unlawful carrying of a weapon, 2,064 charges for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, nearly 4,000 combined charges related to evading arrest, 242 murder charges, among thousands of others in Harris County, according to DPS data. In Liberty County, charges for the same crimes were 1, 47, 45, roughly 60, and 6, respectively.

Yolanda Martinez, a Colony Ridge resident, native Houstonian, U.S. citizen, and small business owner, says there are issues that need to be addressed in the neighborhood like in any community. But she and her husband were able to do something they couldn’t have done in Houston: build their own home and live debt free.

“Colony Ridge is giving opportunity to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to purchase a home somewhere else,” she said.

“There’s crime everywhere,” she continued. A Cleveland ISD middle school teacher and U.S. citizen living in the upscale neighborhood of Kingwood who taught Colony Ridge students, allegedly killed his wife, she said. “The claim that Colony Ridge is a haven for illegal activity isn’t what I experience living here with my family. I feel safer living in Colony Ridge than in Houston, and it’s quieter.”

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