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    Texas state troopers deployed by Abbott stopped 8,721 human smugglers

    Texas state troopers deployed by Abbott stopped 8,721 human smugglers

    by Anna Giaritelli, Homeland Security Reporter |

    April 26, 2023 05:00 AM


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    AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott's (R-TX) decision to surge state troopers to the state's border with Mexico two years ago has resulted in thousands of human smuggling attempts thwarted and a revelation of how many people have slipped past Border Patrol, according to a Washington Examiner investigation.

    Texas Highway Patrol officers, known as troopers, made 8,721 traffic stops that involved a vehicle suspected of transporting illegal immigrants from the border deeper into the United States between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022, according to data produced through a 2022 public information request of Texas Department of Public Safety records.


    During the traffic stops, the state troopers discovered an additional 39,100 illegal immigrants smugglers had attempted to transport from stash houses and fields near the border to cities including Houston and San Antonio. Of that number, roughly 900 were unaccompanied children.

    Smugglers and illegal immigrants caught by troopers would otherwise have disappeared into the interior of the U.S. had it not been for the state's billion-dollar push to enhance police presence, as Border Patrol agents were pulled from the field and inside facilities to process immigrants over the past two years, the DPS said in a statement.

    “Were it not for Gov. Greg Abbott’s leadership and Operation Lone Star, hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, as well as gang members, human traffickers, sex offenders, thousands of weapons, and over 373 million potentially lethal doses of fentanyl, would have made their way into towns and cities across this state and country with little in the way to stop them," DPS spokesman Travis Considine said.

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    As illegal immigration at the southern border surged in the weeks after President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, the Republican governor launched the Operation Lone Star initiative, which dispatched 10,000 state and local law enforcement, as well as state National Guard soldiers, to more than 100 counties along the state's 1,250-mile border with Mexico, including counties 100 miles north of the border.

    The influx of manpower, Abbott said at the time, filled in gaps where Border Patrol agents had been pulled from the field to transport, care for, and process illegal immigrants in custody.

    "You can’t swing a dead cow without hitting a smuggling load," Sheriff Brad Coe said of border adjacent Kinney County in an interview with the Washington Examiner. "They say, 'Oh, the border’s secure.' I have to call bulls*** on that."

    The state trooper deployment was meant to add another layer of law enforcement and beef up the defensive line behind federal agents and local sheriffs as massive organizations known as cartels worked on both sides of the border to shuffle immigrants over the international line and into the hands of drivers in the U.S. recruited on TikTok and Snapchat to pick up and transport immigrants from the border.

    One border sheriff, Joe Frank Martinez of Val Verde County, said data given to his office by Border Patrol revealed many illegal immigrants were getting through the border without getting stopped.
    From March 1 through March 15, 2023, Border Patrol agents in the Del Rio region apprehended 12,705 illegal immigrants. Border Patrol observed an additional 6,300 people crossing but was unable to intercept them, Martinez said. It was these "gotaways," the illegal immigrants who slipped past federal agents, who later loaded into getaway vehicles and were pulled over by state troopers further up the road.

    The Texas DPS South Texas Region's Twitter page showcases hundreds of videos and pictures of vehicle pursuits. DPS declined to outline what driver behavior troopers look for when they make an initial stop, such as speeding or out-of-state license plates on a rental car.

    Passengers are typically turned over to Border Patrol to go through immigration proceedings, while drivers face a high chance of being charged with human smuggling by the state. Oftentimes, traffic stops can only be completed after long and dangerous police pursuits, which have led to countless deaths of bystanders, drivers, and immigrants in those two years.

    In late September 2022, a 17-year-old girl from Austin died while smuggling people in a pickup truck. She crashed the truck into the side of a tractor-trailer while speeding through downtown Uvalde.
    Then, on Oct. 25, 2022, DPS troopers pulled over a dump truck and found more than 60 illegal immigrants hidden inside the back.

    In another October incident last year, a trooper pulled over a woman smuggling people from Mission, only to find that the woman had also brought her two children, including a 10-month-old baby, on the drive.

    In November, a trooper in La Salle County arrested a driver who admitted to being paid $3,200 for each of the five people concealed in her car.

    The DPS data showed that traffic stops of suspected human smugglers peaked early in 2021, when more than 5,800 were pulled over and 26,000 illegal immigrants were found inside the vehicles. Over the past year, driver and passenger arrests declined to nearly 2,900 drivers and more than 12,000 passengers.
    In Biden’s first full month in office, 215 illegal immigrants were found in vehicles pulled over by troopers. By March, the first month of Operation Lone Star, that figure had increased to 1,205 and eventually peaked at 4,242 in September 2021.

    Six of the top 12 counties for traffic stops were located on the border, meaning smugglers got dozens of miles into the country before being encountered by police. Maverick, Val Verde, and Kinney counties, all border counties, were the top three counties for traffic stops, with 1,000 to 2,200 stops per county in the two-year period.

    The nine other counties had 100 to 500 stops each in the same time frame. Listed by most stops to least, the runners-up were Uvalde, Zavala, Hidalgo, Starr, Dimmit, Edwards, Brooks, Webb, and Cameron.
    Overall south-central Texas, home to Val Verde, Kinney, and Maverick counties, saw the greatest number of traffic stops, while the southeastern part of the state's Rio Grande Valley was second highest.

    El Paso County experienced a surge in traffic stops late last year — a 1,900% increase in traffic stops from 2021 to 2022 — from six stops to 120 stops. More than two-thirds of traffic stops in 2022 occurred between Dec. 19 and Dec. 31, when Abbott sent additional DPS and National Guard to the area due to an increase in Border Patrol apprehensions in the region, according to a DPS spokeswoman.

    The surge in illegal crossings was believed to be due to the anticipated ending of Title 42, a public health policy that allowed many immigrants to be immediately returned to Mexico during the pandemic.

    It showed how the state could surge troopers to areas with high illegal immigration and cartel activity and make an impact. But Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX), whose district includes 800 of the state's 1,250-mile border, said a permanent solution would be critical to ending Operation Lone Star.

    “The only way this gets solved is by the federal government enforcing the laws that are already on the books,” Gonzales said.“You can throw every DPS agent we have at it. You can add all this money to Border Patrol. You can do these things, but we have to one, enforce the laws that are on the books."

    The DHS declined a request for comment and pointed the Washington Examiner to previous statements on positions, including its plan to focus on "smart border policies."

    "DHS has surged resources to the border. With additional personnel and improvements in processing, we have maintained orderly systems that manage more than twice as many people than they were built for while ensuring national security and public safety," the statement said.

    Highway patrol’s presence in Kinney County and dozens of other counties has benefited landowners and the general community, but it has also come with negative impacts on everyday life.
    “They’re making their presence known, though that radiates into the community, so there’s a high chance of a pursuit coming through,” Coe said.

    In neighboring Val Verde County, Martinez recalled one such fatality from a chase in March 2023.


    “We had a death that resulted from somebody trying to smuggle somebody in, and there was a chase, and the person died. There was a death [in mid-March] — a lady and her granddaughter in Crockett County,” Martinez said.

    Kinney County Judge John Paul Schuster said despite the concerns, the presence of the highway patrol in the area is “still a huge asset."

    “I want what’s best for the 3,200 folks that live here,” Schuster said. “There's no reason for us to have to tolerate this s*** just because we don't live in some rich neighborhood in Maryland or Virginia or California or Dallas or Houston — just because our backyard’s a little bit bigger and a little bit more remote.”

    Last edited by Beezer; 04-27-2023 at 07:32 AM.


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