The Lone Star State Steps Up to the Plate to Tackle Illegal Immigration Surge As Feds Are Overwhelmed

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Posted: Jun 04, 2021 7:40 AM

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas — The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter was moving east along the U.S.-Mexico border when a call went over the radio about a human smuggler transporting multiple illegal immigrants ditching his vehicle after being pulled over and four of his "cargo" also trying to make a run for it.

The pilot moved the chopper into position over the last known location of the driver in a neighborhood, with Border Patrol, Texas Highway Patrol, and Hidalgo County Constables responding on the ground. We hovered in the area for about 10 minutes before having to leave because the helicopter needed to be refueled.

"It's like this all day, every day," Major Jim Rohrman said, telling me how they had responded to another bailout, where either a driver or illegal immigrants bail out the vehicle they are being transported in.

I spent the past week with Texas Highway Patrol's air and water units to get a firsthand look at how Texas law enforcement is dealing with the historic surge in illegal immigration and drug smuggling that really got going after Joe Biden officially became president. In March, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) initiated Operation Lone Star to address the surge that seems to have only gotten worse as the months have gone on. Similar to what I have heard from Border Patrol agents, the different state troopers I spoke with said they have never seen such a stark uptick in illegal activity at the border as to what they are seeing now.

"We don't get into politics, but we know that politics are always going to be involved when we're talking about immigration. One thing I can say though; there was a significant change, as far as immigration, as far as the illegal entries, with the change of administrations," said Lt. Christopher Olivarez, a DPS spokesman. "That's been very obvious...that [the surge] is taking place right now because of the change in administrations, because of the change in some of the policies. That can't be ignored."

DPS's helicopters are a great addition to whenever BP's air assets are tied up somewhere else along the Rio Grande. The helicopters have powerful cameras underneath to look into the brush along the riverbank or to search for runaways who have made it onto the U.S. side of the border.

Townhall Media/Julio Rosas

Aside from the busyness of their schedules, the other thing DPS' Aircraft Operations Division has to contend with is the weather. The Rio Grande Valley has been inundated with repeated thunderstorms and heavy clouds this past week, meaning air patrols have been grounded. This has provided an opportunity for the cartels and human smugglers to have one less thing to worry about during their river operations.

To directly intercept people crossing the Rio Grande, DPS has its riverboat teams. DPS's boats work at differing hours to try to keep smugglers off-balance since BP and the U.S. Coast Guard generally have more regular shifts that are easy to predict and work around. During the ride-along, I was told due to how busy the teams are and because of the massive amount of traffic crossing the river, another river team is being created to meet the demand.

Townhall Media/Julio Rosas

People not familiar with the boat teams are often surprised to find the watercraft packing some heavy heat. In addition to having rifles and less-than-lethal weapons, the boats have four M240B machine guns. Failed senate and presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke went after Sen. Ted Cruz (R) during a border tour in March for being "in a Border Patrol boat armed with machine guns. The only threat you face is unarmed children and families who are seeking asylum (as well as the occasional heckler)."

One boat trooper told me while they encounter families and unaccompanied minors, the youngest kid he saw who was by himself being only 4 years old, they do not underestimate the cartel threat.

"We're just trying to match to whatever they have," the trooper said, adding the cartels have pricey gear like night vision.

"We cannot lose focus and ignore that there is a criminal element present to what is taking place. The cartels are exploiting the situation. They're profiting off the situation...All we're doing is enriching these cartels, making them more powerful," by having lax immigration policies, Olivarez said.

The boat teams don't just stay on the water, as oftentimes they land a few crew members on the riverbank to track down people who have already crossed into the United States.

Abbott issued a disaster declaration earlier in the week for the counties that have been the hardest hit with the surge. The declaration authorizes "the use of all necessary and available state and local resources to protect landowners in these counties from trespassers and the damage they cause to private property."

So far, Operation Lone Star has resulted in over 1,300 criminal arrests, 35,000 illegal immigrants apprehended, and the seizure of over 10,000 pounds of illegal drugs, according to Abbott's declaration. The price tag is for just DPS assets, not including the National Guardsmen who have been deployed, is around $2.5 million per week, totaling $32.5 million at the time of this report.

What was once a big story in March and early April, the crisis seems to only be getting passive coverage from the mainstream media, aside from Fox News, which has had reporters give near-daily updates right at the border. In one case, I'm told a reporter at a large news outlet wanted to do ride-alongs with DPS recently, only for the story to be killed by their higher-ups.

A BP agent I spoke with said one of the reasons they like to have the Texas Highway Patrol on the roads is because BP is limited in pulling people over who are suspected of illegal border activity, which can be hard to prove. DPS troopers, on the other hand, can pull over drivers for a wide variety of typical traffic violations, who can then radio for BP if they come across drug or human smuggling.

Even with the additional 1,000 personnel added to the border as part of Operation Lone Star, it is still not enough to fill the gaps simply because their area of operation is massive. There is a lot of concern among BP and DPS about what will happen if Title 42, which gives BP the authority to conduct speedy expulsions, is removed.

"U.S. Border Patrol is overwhelmed with the constant illegal entries that are taking place because it involves a lot of processing, a lot of hours. That can't be ignored, that is a crisis. There is a problem right now. I know conversations have been out there that the border is closed. The border is not closed when you have 2,000 illegal entries taking place daily," Olivarez said.