PLUM GROVE, Texas — A Texas land developer has established a sprawling settlement north of Houston where thousands of illegal immigrants are believed to have settled, raising concerns among experts and elected officials that the development 400 miles in the interior of the United States could become a strategic asset for cartels.
Located in Liberty County, Texas near the small town of Plum Grove, the Colony Ridge development is a sprawling community that, based on an analysis of publicly available information, is now over 60 square miles and nearly the size of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Its population is estimated to be anywhere between 50,000 to 75,000, and it is growing rapidly thanks to a marketing plan targeted at Texas’ hispanic population.
The Daily Wire surveyed the development by helicopter to assess the true extent of its growth. The flight began in the wealthy Woodlands neighborhood, but it was only minutes before the designer homes and pools gave way to half-built homes, dilapidated trailers, and heaps of trash.
Houses on the ground fly the flags of foreign countries and many homes display their addresses on spray painted pieces of plywood. Many structures, some of which are not hooked up to running water, were under construction, while others were unfinished but didn’t appear to be actively getting worked on. At least one plot of land didn’t have any structures at all, just a tent in the corner, nestled between shrubs. Stray dogs without collars could be seen trotting along the side of the underdeveloped streets.
But despite what appears to be poor living conditions throughout much of the development, Colony Ridge is exploding. The view from the sky revealed a sprawling labyrinth of roundabouts and endless rows of sidewalkless streets, with empty plots waiting to be developed. The edges of the property are dotted with construction vehicles, each one tasked with cutting and clearing the surrounding forest to make way for yet more growth.
A calculation performed based on acreage and lot data provided on the Colony Ridge website for each of their six subdivisions found that it was already more than 60 square miles, which is bigger than major southern cities such as Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Asheville, North Carolina.
Colony Ridge, owned and operated by developer William “Trey” Harris, is rapidly expanding, at least in part due to a financing arrangement that makes it possible for illegal aliens to buy land deep in the heart of Texas. While traditional financing methods require credit ratings and proof of income, Todd Bensman, a National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Daily Wire that buyers at Colony Ridge are able to circumvent the usual requirements, even dodging the need to provide a social security number.
“Because with a traditional bank loan you need to be able to show that you have a credit rating and proof of income,” Bensman said, adding that buyers at Colony Ridge are asked to pay as little as a “few hundred dollars” as a down payment. “The loan is directly from the developer, bypassing traditional mortgages,” and while the buyer might pay high interest rates near 15%, it’s a great deal for someone with no other option to buy land in the country, Bensman explained.
Doing business as Terrenos Houston (which translates to Houston Land), the company appears to market its property entirely in Spanish, telling prospective buyers they can own land in the United States. An advertisement posted on the Instagram page for Terrenos Houston appears to target those who are either not currently living in the United States or who are not citizens of the country. The caption of the post, written in Spanish, roughly translates to “Still renting? Own land in the United States!”
It encourages potential buyers to reach out via Whatsapp, known as “a go-to app for millions of people who need to communicate internationally” because it “operates using an internet connection, bypassing traditional international calling restrictions and fees.” Numerous posts are hashtagged “#EstadosUnidos.”
But in addition to marketing to those who might want to “own land in the United States,” many of the development’s employees appear to be foreign nationals, living in Colombia and other Latin American countries, according to the Terrenos Houston LinkedIn profile.
The plots of land come with nothing on them and at an affordable price — the current offer is two adjacent plots of land for $65,000, with the buyers responsible for constructing a place to live.
Likely due to the massive influx of migrants into Texas since President Joe Biden took office in 2021, Bensman told The Daily Wire that Colony Ridge “is in the midst of maybe its greatest boom ever.”
Michael Yon, an independent journalist who has repeatedly flown over and driven through Colony Ridge to document its expansion, projects that the development will soon house hundreds of thousands.
“I don’t know how many live there now, but this is going to be big enough for 200,000 people,” Yon told The Daily Wire. “They’re actually building a city.”
Part 2. Welcome to the largest illegal immigrant no-go sanctuary city in America. Colony Ridge in Liberty County Texas from an airplane today. Vast expansion clearing underway not pictured, w/ @Michael_Yon pic.twitter.com/whJ0ob55M2
— Todd Bensman (@BensmanTodd) June 14, 2023
William Trey Harris, the developer, did not respond to request for comment. Within days of the initial inquiry, however, an article was published by The Center Square featuring “exclusive” comment from both Harris and his attorney to push back against claims that Colony Ridge has become the “largest illegal alien settlement in Texas.”
In it, Harris and his lawyer state that the company does not advertise outside of the United States, but acknowledge that accommodations are made for applicants who may not have a social security number. “Depending on the application, customers provide Social Security numbers, ITINs, Texas driver’s licenses, state IDs, passports and other forms of identification,” Harris explained to the outlet, which goes on to state that there is nothing illegal about noncitizens buying land in the United States and that property developers are not legally required to check immigration status — that’s on the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, it contends. (The Center Square reporter Bethany Blankley did not respond to a request for comment on how its story came about.)
Bensman, however, says that one of the reasons Colony Ridge is appealing is the thin law enforcement in the area, which is struggling to keep up with the exploding population.
“There’s very thin law enforcement presence in that area,” he added. “It’s appealing because they plan to live and work illegally. That means that they probably have to break a whole lot of different kinds of laws in order to buy vehicles and drive the vehicles and maybe show documents to potential employers. When people buy here, they’re buying peace of mind from law enforcement.”
A representative of the Liberty County Sheriff’s office told The Daily Wire its officers do not check immigration status in routine stops because it “would take forever.” He said the immigration status of suspects would only be checked when investigating violent crimes.
Republican congressman Brian Babin, who represents a neighboring Texas district and also recently surveyed the development by helicopter, says Colony Ridge has doubled in size in recent years and is concerned about cartel activity.
“It was very concerning to fly over it. It’s got an enormous footprint. In the three years since I last saw it, it looks like it’s pretty much doubled in size,” Babin told The Daily Wire. “There is word that the cartels are playing a role in this area.”
Representative Babin is not the only one concerned about potential cartel activity in the area. Members of law enforcement in the area explained that members of the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels had invested in Colony Ridge properties early on in order to set up safe houses for human and drug smuggling operations, Bensman reports in his book.
“The Mexican cartels are very active in that they run safe houses, they run drugs, they do marijuana grows, they commit crimes,” Bensman explained, citing conversations he’s had with law enforcement. “This is a homeland security issue. It’s a public safety issue.”
The site and the surrounding area have been the site of both drug-related and violent crime, including a gang and narcotics case that began with reports of gunfire exchanges, as well as the murder of a mother of five by a Mexican woman who reportedly practiced Santeria, and was married to a high ranking Mexican cartel member.
Last year, a 16-year old girl was found dead from a gunshot wound in a ditch in Colony Ridge. And earlier this year an illegal immigrant in the area killed five neighbors, a family who was also here illegally, after they reportedly asked him to stop firing his semi-automatic rifle into the air late one night.
Cartel activity in the area appears to date back until at least the early 2010’s, with agents from five different federal agencies and law enforcement in Liberty County having discovered a massive marijuana growing operation in 2013. The sophisticated operation included guard towers and a 20 foot-deep irrigation pond the size of a football field. More than $4 million worth of marijuana was recovered.
The massive pocket of illegal immigrants in the backyard of America’s fourth largest city has somehow avoided serious scrutiny, and critics point the finger at some Texas lawmakers who have made a career out of calling for a strong border.
“There are some serious allegations that Republican politicians are involved in the development,” Chris Russo, the President of Texans for Strong Borders, told The Daily Wire, citing “massive political donations that’ve been made by the developers.”
Russo pointed to Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, who has taken $1.4 million in political contributions from Trey Harris, according to campaign records. Harris’ wife, Celeste Harris, also donated $100,000 to Abbott’s campaign in 2018, records show. Her occupation is listed as “Colony Ridge Development.”
Asked about Colony Ridge, Abbott spokesman Andrew Mahaleris told The Daily Wire that the governor deployed public safety troopers to Liberty County to support the sheriff’s office but has not received requests for additional deployments. Mahaleris also said, “The Governor’s office will ensure the 2017 law the Governor signed banning sanctuary cities is upheld.”
When asked about the large political contributions, Abbott’s office did not return a comment.
Other Republicans who have received money from Harris include Texas congressman Morgan Luttrell, who received three maximum contributions of $2,900 in the 2022 cycle. Luttrell told The Daily Wire he “just recently learned” about Colony Ridge.
“I just recently learned about this area, and although it is not in my district, I am supporting Congressman Babin’s efforts to address any concerns or wrongdoings and protect our neighbors,” Luttrell said, referencing his colleague who has been critical of the development.
“We are working closely with local elected officials and law enforcement to determine what actions we can take to address problems that may exist,” he said, specifically highlighting “cartel presence,” “gang activity,” and “trafficking.”
“Regardless of any donation amount, the Congressman is beholden to no one,” his spokesman added when pressed on the campaign contributions, though he would not say whether he would return the contributions, or accept more in the future.
Harris has also made political contributions to state lawmakers in the area. He donated $5,000 to State Rep. Briscoe Cain, who represents neighboring house district 128, in 2020. Cain did not respond to a request for comment.
Harris also donated $1,800 to State Rep. Ernest Bailes, who represents House District 18, where Colony Ridge is located. With Bailes, the financial web grows more complicated — public records indicate that a construction and development company owned by a family member of Bailes was hired to conduct a massive project for Colony Ridge.
R&T Ellis, a pipeline construction, earthwork, and clearing company, paved the way for Colony Ridge’s expansion. The company boasted in 2018 that they helped build the “largest roller-compacted concrete development in the world,” referencing just one portion of the Colony Ridge development that consisted of 6,400 lots, 4,400 acres, and over 70 miles of road. The company is owned by Randy Ellis — who appears to be a cousin of Bailes. He was also the single biggest donor to Bailes in the 2020 election cycle, contributing $10,000 in the 2020 election cycle and $1,000 in 2017.
Entergy, the energy company that services all six of the subdivisions that comprise Colony Ridge, also contributed $9,000 to Bailes through its political action committee, across the 2018, 2020, and 2022 election cycles.
State records show that Colony Ridge has spent anywhere from $221,750 to $482,879 for the services of lobbyist Chuck Rice and attorney Natalie Scott at Coat and Rose. Coat and Rose’s political action committee donated $6,500 to Bailes.
Bailes did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Wire.
Russo says lawmakers should launch a “full scale investigation into the development.” He’s concerned that if Colony Ridge isn’t stopped in Texas, the business model could be adopted elsewhere.
“The state should take an interest in banning these types of loans that have enabled it to become a magnet for illegal aliens,” Russo said. “When you see the expansion it suggests that this is a very profitable enterprise.”
While it remains unclear exactly how many people live at Colony Ridge, estimates suggest that the population in the development could include tens of thousands of illegal aliens.
A Texas Public Policy Foundation report from 2020 contended that there were approximately 20,000 residents living in Colony Ridge at the time. The number has since surged, with Colony Ridge itself stating in January that their Santa Fe development, just one of six developments that make up the entire operation, has 35,000 residents.
“Prior to the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the population of Colony Ridge’s master planned Houston El Norte communities was on a trajectory to surpass 100,000 in just a few short years,” the three year-old report reads. It notes that the development could eventually balloon to more than a quarter-million residents.
The January statement added that the developer was “selling 200-250 lots every week, growing on average 150-200 new rooftops per month,” and called it “the fastest growing development in the U.S.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation report said Liberty County was now home to “the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the United States,” and that the local Cleveland Independent School District is struggling to manage more than 100 new enrollments every month, forcing the residents to sign up for $300 million in bonds to finance four new schools and the expansion of a fifth. The district has also struggled with the sudden surge of students who are not proficient in English, and is now offering $7,000 annual stipends to bilingual teachers.
The town of Plum Grove sued Colony Ridge in 2020, alleging that the development was responsible for flooding and that it failed to contain sewage, but a judge ruled that Colony Ridge was not to blame, according to local press. Harris struck back a year later and sued the city officials, accusing them of “impeding” his business operations. Part of the lawsuit focused on the city government’s decision to hire a Houston-based private investigator named Wayne Dolcefino to look into the Colony Ridge development. The lawsuit claimed that it was an “attempt to smear the reputation” of Colony Ridge. His case was dismissed.
Harris conceded to Center Square that Colony Ridge allows purchasers to use individual taxpayer identification numbers rather than social security numbers on applications — an option that has been highlighted by pro-illegal immigration groups as a way for migrants to get a foothold in the United States.
The National Immigration Law Center, a group that advocates on behalf of illegal immigrants and has received over $2 million from liberal billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, cites individual taxpayer identification numbers as useful tools for illegal immigrants hoping to obtain a mortgage. California-based activist organization Immigrants Rising also boasts that “People who are ineligible for a Social Security number can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number, regardless of immigration status.”
Though Harris and his legal team maintain they’re doing nothing illegal, national security experts say the danger posed by developments like Colony Ridge will only get worse as illegal immigrants flood the country.
“Think of the chain migration that comes in, think of the criminal elements with the cartels that come in through that chain migration,” J. Michael Waller, Senior Analyst for Strategy at the Center for Security Policy told The Daily Wire. “This is going to be cartel land near Houston and at risk of being a no-go zone.”
Waller said developments like Colony Ridge will “change the entire United States of America,” and to a large extent, already have, going on to suggest that similar settlements are “being planted in pockets around the country.”
“They have no idea of the American founding, of American founding principles, they haven’t taken any training in what it means to be an American or what the American way of life is all about,” he added before lamenting “This is just symptomatic of the destruction of our country.”