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- 05-13-2011, 12:41 PM #1
Cartels trafficking in the American airspace.
Special Investigation: American Airspace
Reported by: Erica Proffer
Last Update: 10:13 am
WESLACO - It's an easy way in and out.
"We don't have law enforcement 24/7 at the airport because we have Highway 77, which is part of the corridor for the cartel," said Judge Juan Escobar.
In the mid-Valley, a registered landing strip sits in an unlikely spot in Progreso, close to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Grass encroaches on the runway.
We find shotgun shells littered on the side.
"It still goes back to the issue of reporting," said Garett.
Folks a little north of the checkpoint are working on changing the way they operate.
Judge Escobar told CHANNEL 5 NEWS he has several grants in the works to provide fencing and extra security at the Kleberg County Airport.
He hopes that will help cut down on trafficking in the American airspace.
Mexican drug and human traffickers are using American airspace to do their dirty business.
Authorities we spoke with say it's been going on for years.
"We know it's happening. We just don't know when it's happening all the time, where it's happening all the time," said George Garrett, emergency management coordinator for Weslaco and Donna.
Drugs and humans are coming north. Weapons are going south. Criminals are going up to get by law enforcement on the ground.
"We have a lot of private airports around ranch land. Some are improved airports; some are not improved. We also have a lot of highway that is not patrolled. It would make it very easy for someone to land if they were carrying some kind of contraband and unload that contraband to their cohorts in crime," said Garrett.
The ease of transportation is reflected in the numbers. The U.S. Department of Justice lists McAllen and Rio Grande City in the top five U.S. cities for marijuana trafficking.
McAllen was No. 1 for both marijuana and cocaine shipments.
It was third in the nation for methamphetamine.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS took to the air for a first-hand look at the vulnerability of our airspace.
Reporter: "What's to stop you from flying right there into Mexico?"
Pilot: "Nothing, just turn right."
We could fly into Mexican airspace without telling anyone here where we were headed. Telling a U.S. tower you are going to Mexico is required. The U.S. high-tech radar systems here would pick us up crossing the river, but we could fly under it into Mexico.
"They don't have the type of equipment we have. If I went over there, our people would know, but theirs wouldn't," said the pilot.
The Tethered Aerostat Radar System monitors anyone trying to fly under the radar.
Workers confirmed they've spotted low-flying aircraft.
Suspicious activities are automatically reported. The workers say Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Air Force work the radar.
We flew over the the Starr County Airport.
"It's very small. You've got two small hangars, but nobody runs the office there. They have self-service fuel. You come in and get fuel on the credit card and nobody has to be there," said the pilot.
We found dirt roads leading to the paved runway. There was a footpath that appeared to lead to the helicopter pad behind the fence.
We checked the activity on the ground.
No one was around. We spent about an hour on site. No questions asked.
Here, anyone can land or take off. No questions asked.
Pilot: "Unless they file a flight plan or something, there won't be a record with the FAA."
Reporter: "You don't have to file a flight plan?"
Pilot: "Don't have to, not in the United States."
We checked out the Edinburg airport at night. We saw what looked to us like suspicious activity. A light across from the airport only flashed while the airport hangar was open. It stopped after the pilot locked everything up. The site for the light has nothing to do with the airport.
"To say that other airports aren't being used for illegal activities would be ludicrous to think that's not happening," said Garett.
A few sky miles away, we spot several other possible airstrips. These aren't on any map.
"All these ranch roads out here, any one can be used as a runway," said the pilot.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS talked with authorities north of the Valley to see if they had similar concerns.
We traveled past the Falfurrias checkpoint to Kleberg County.
"Our people in Washington should go and do their job instead of playing this political tango," said Juan Escobar, Kleberg County Judge.
Escobar says smugglers penetrate the area easily.
"I will tell you it's a threat. It's a problem to us and our nation," said Escobar.
His county airport is unmanned at night. There is no gate to keep people out.
"The security of our community at our airport could be a potential threat in a sense that smuggling could take place at times no one is there," said Escobar.
Escobar says it has been a problem for years. The county judge tells us a limited number of officers is forcing the priorities elsewhere.
http://www.krgv.com/news/local/story/Sp ... aF9Dw.cspxNO AMNESTY
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