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The Texas Department of Public Safety has deployed teams of troopers to South Texas in an effort to combat a burgeoning wave of human smuggling and drug transport in the border region.
The move comes upon the orders of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who said he is acting in response to a federal government policy that he believes has encouraged increased illegal border crossing.
Operation Lone Star was launched after a rise in the number of human smuggling cases this year stretched local and regional law enforcement agencies to their maximum capacity. Border crossings by undocumented immigrants being transported by
smugglers have put manpower demands on the US Border Patrol, local police, county sheriff’s deputies and state troopers. In an ongoing series of incidents, smugglers have attempted evading capture by speeding from officers or running from their vehicles after crashing or being stopped.
The Texas governor attributes the increase in numbers of undocumented immigrants to what he describes as an open-border policy by the Biden administration.
“The crisis at our southern border continues to escalate because of Biden administration policies that refuse to secure the border and invite illegal immigration,” Gov. Abbot wrote in a March press release. “Texas supports legal immigration but will not be an accomplice to the open-border policies that cause, rather than prevent, a humanitarian crisis in our state and endanger the lives of Texans.”
According to Frio County Lt. Joshua Longoria, the county has recorded 98 cases of smuggler “bail-outs” since January 1, incidents in which suspects and immigrants have fled on foot from law enforcement officers after a vehicle pursuit.
“Last year we saw bail-outs sporadically” the lieutenant said. “This year we can see up to three or four a shift.”
The La Salle County Sheriff’s Office reported this week that its officers have responded to or assisted with 185 cases involving the illegal smuggling of immigrants this year.
“Many of these calls have resulted in high-speed chases across counties,” Chief Deputy Armando Romo said in a phone interview this week. “These chases not only put the officers and immigrants in danger, but also the public at large.”
Forty state troopers have been deployed to La Salle County, making four teams of ten troopers working in rotation. Frio County has one team; Atascosa County has four teams.
Frio County Chief Deputy Peter Salinas has submitted a letter to the DPS administration requesting additional assistance from the state troopers.
Operation Lone Star includes the DPS and the Texas National Guard, who will deploy air, ground, marine and tactical border security assets.
According to a news release from Gov. Abbott’s office in early April, the DPS made 598 criminal arrests and over 16,000 referrals of illegal immigrants to US Customs and Border Protection in the first month of the operation. The operation has also led to the seizure of 14 pounds of cocaine, 23 firearms and millions of dollars in currency and the arrest of nine gang members involved in the movement of contraband, according to the state.
State troopers from Florida and Nebraska have also been deployed to the Texas border region.
“The citizens of Texas have been besieged by a threat that has existed for tens of years but not to this dangerous degree,” La Salle County Chief Deputy Armando Romo said this week. “Human smuggling is a serious crime whose victims are men, women and children of all ages. Sheriff Anthony Zertuche has committed this department to defending the public against the threats and results of human smuggling attempts.”
The chief deputy described human smuggling incidents as putting victims at risk of injury or death and endangering the public at large.
“With the arrival of the Texas DPS and its vast resources in our area, we would like to extend our appreciation for their help,” Romo said. “The mere presence of a black and white patrol unit is tremendous, and it shows the commitment that our state government has in combating human smuggling attempts. The troopers’ assistance will go a long way in combating crime.”