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Frio County sheriff’s deputies are reporting a rise in human trafficking cases, with more than 20 recorded for last month.
“The county is a prime location for trafficking,” Patrol Lieutenant Joshua Longoria said this week. “We are close to the border and sit on the IH-35 corridor.”
According to reports filed at the sheriff’s office, within a two-day span deputies initiated three traffic stops that led to human trafficking charges.
At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, January 30, deputies initiated a routine traffic stop after the driver of a Toyota Camry committed a traffic violation.
Investigating deputies noticed a strong marijuana odor when they approached the sedan, driven by Jessie Arce, and noticed three men in the back seat. A further search of the vehicle revealed two men in the trunk; deputies soon learned that all five men were illegal immigrants.
Arce and the five men were turned over to US Border Patrol agents; Arce faces felony human trafficking charges and a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana.
The following evening, deputies effected a traffic stop on a 2013 Ford Focus driven by a Laredo woman who had failed to stop at the intersection of Highway 57 and IH-35.
The woman, later identified as Erika Barboza, eventually stopped her sedan near Milemarker 112. She told officers that she had been given a hundred dollars to give four men and one woman a ride to the next town, a report on the case indicated.
Border patrol agents detained Barboza and the five undocumented immigrants in her vehicle.
The woman faces felony human trafficking charges.
The third stop happened a mere thirty minutes later when the driver of a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck failed to use a signal light before turning onto a county road.
Once deputies initiated a traffic stop, the driver began to lead law enforcement on a high-speed chase down county roads, reaching speeds of 90 miles per hour, according to a report on the case.
After crossing into Medina County the driver stopped the pickup on a ranch and the occupants fled on foot.
“We have noticed a trend with these human smuggling cases,” Longoria said. “They are traveling on county roads; we are working diligently to stop this because they are bailing out on private ranches.”
The sheriff’s department gives credit to the border patrol agents for their assistance in these cases.
“They have been vital to our success with these cases,” the lieutenant said. “Because of their assistance we have been able to detain the majority of these individuals.”
The US National Human Trafficking Hotline is reporting the number of crisis trafficking cases it handles increased by more than 40 percent in the month following the shelter-in-place orders compared to the prior month during one of the peak periods of the coronavirus pandemic.