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Border Security? Texas governor tweets about robbery at Church's Chicken in McAllen

At about 6:30 p.m. Friday, officers responded to a robbery call at the Church's Chicken restaurant on South 10th Street in McAllen. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Blankenship Guzman)

McALLEN — After a gunman robbed her grandpa on Friday, Cassie Luevano started tweeting at anyone who would listen.

Her heartfelt messages about the "innocent grandpa targeted by illegals for his ID" and pleas for better border security caught the attention of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

"Let him know that Texas is coming to his rescue," Abbott tweeted to more than 150,000 followers. "We'll work to protect him and put an end to this."

Investigators, though, don't actually know who committed the crime. They haven't identified a motive. And any connection between the robbery and border security remains a mystery.

At roughly 6:30 p.m. Friday, 80-year-old Homero Guzman stopped for dinner at the Church's Chicken restaurant near the intersection of South 10th Street and Galveston Avenue.

"He parked right by the restaurant doors," said Luevano, 25, the South Texas regional director for the Republican Party of Texas. "He parked where there was lighting."

A man approached Guzman and pulled a gun.

Speaking in Spanish, the man asked whether or not Guzman was a United States citizen, Luevano said. He demanded Guzman's ID and wallet.

The man wanted Guzman to come with him, but Guzman refused, Luevano said. Apparently willing to settle for the wallet, the man left. Guzman wasn't injured.

Officers responded to the restaurant minutes later.

"There's nothing in this report that would indicate any other matter than a robbery," said Officer John Saenz, a spokesman for the McAllen Police Department.

Luevano said the robbery hit her hard.

Guzman isn't just her grandpa — he's her best friend, Luevano said, adding that they talk on the phone every day.

"He'll call just to tell me a joke," Luevano said. "Something that was funny or that he saw on the news."

When her sister texted her about the robbery, Luevano said she felt compelled to ask for help.

Luevano sent a flurry of tweets, mixing messages about the robbery and her grandpa with comments about border security and "illegals."

While the gunman spoke Spanish with a Mexican accent, Luevano said differentiating between regular crime and border crime is difficult.

“We see it in the news every day,” Luevano said, adding that she knows Abbott is concerned about crime on the border and takes the problem seriously.

“I’ve been in a room where Gov. Abbott addresses these issues and I feel confident when he addresses these issues,” Luevano said. “So I did what I know how to do: I tweeted the governor.”

Abbott responded about two hours later.

Philip Ethridge, an associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who studies crime and border security, said he doubted the robbery had any nexus to border security.

"If this had happened in any other city — I hate to say this — it would have been just a routine crime that police take reports on every day," Ethridge said, adding that not every crime near the border is actually a matter of border security.

State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said the tweet reflects the thinking behind Texas' border security push.

The Texas Department of Public Safety wants millions for border security, but can't produce a coherent plan or justify the millions already spent, Canales said. Data released by the Department of Public Safety shows few drug busts but many traffic citations.

"I can say this about the governor: He's the first governor that's actually paid attention to the Rio Grande Valley," Canales said. "He's made more visits. He seems to be truly concerned about the Rio Grande Valley."

However, a robbery at Church's Chicken in McAllen isn't a border security problem, Canales said.

"I would go out on a limb and say somebody was held up at gunpoint in Houston last night," Canales said. "Is he coming to Houston's rescue?"

Crime data reported to the FBI shows the stark difference between McAllen and Houston.

From January to June 2016, McAllen had 31 robberies — 22 per 100,000 people, according to FBI Uniform Crime Report data. Houston had 209 robberies per 100,000 people.

For some Republicans, the border is just a pawn in a larger game, Canales said, adding that hyping border security is big business.

"And in order to do that, you have to make people believe that this place is something it's not," Canales said.

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