Source: Breitbart, By Randy Clark, March 12, 2023
Law enforcement officers in Zavala County, Texas, report a serious uptick in organized migrant smuggling activity on county roads and highways in recent weeks. In just five days last week, Zavala County Sheriff’s Office deputies interdicted 23 separate smuggling ventures attempting to move migrants through the county to reach the interior of the United States.
The small law enforcement department in this county located just 30 miles from the Rio Grande border with Mexico stopped six vehicles found to contain migrants on one single day last week. The vehicle stops often involve high-speed pursuits, stolen vehicles, property damage, and according to local law enforcement officials most concerning, the frequent presence of loaded weapons within reach of the human smugglers. The smuggling attempts involved more than 100 suspected migrants, some of whom managed to escape arrest by running from pursuing deputies onto private ranches.
A human smuggler’s vehicle crashes on a private ranch to escape pursuing deputies.
Zavala County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Ricardo Rios told Breitbart Texas his deputies have responded to the increasing number of human smuggling incidents while trying to continue to meet their primary law enforcement obligation of keeping the county’s residents safe by responding to local calls for service.
Rios told Breitbart several of the smuggling ventures thwarted last week involved stolen vehicles from surrounding cities. Smugglers often steal vehicles from larger metropolitan areas such as San Antonio and Houston and immediately travel to the border region to transport the migrants away from the border.
Steering column damage caused by smugglers during vehicle theft
Zavala County is a challenging environment for the deputies patrolling the myriad of roadways, including numerous farm-to-market roads that allow smugglers easy egress from the border region. Two pursuits during the past week involved migrant smugglers crashing their vehicles into innocent motorists.
Smuggler’s vehicle crashes into innocent motorist after pursuit.
The chief deputy reported that several incidents involved vehicles driving cross country to avoid interdiction while destroying private ranch fences along their way. He said their greatest concern is public safety. As the smugglers more often choose to flee from authorities rather than yield to the deputy’s emergency lights, the risk of injury to the public and the migrants rises.
In January, as reported by Breitbart Texas, two migrants died after a vehicle accident occurred on a bridge in Zavala County near Uvalde. The deceased migrants survived the crash but later died after jumping from the bridge as they fled from law enforcement authorities. Four other migrants survived the nearly 40-foot fall but suffered extensive injuries.
A smuggler’s pistol confiscated by a Zavala County sheriff’s deputy.
Rios says his department works to aggressively investigate each case and prosecute under current Texas law. Drivers are routinely charged under a Texas statute for Smuggling of Persons. The statute currently is at a minimum, a third-degree felony and carries fines up to $10,000 and a prison term between two and ten years.
As reported by Breitbart Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has asked Texas legislators to increase the criminal penalties for human smuggling in hopes of creating a stronger deterrent to the illegal activity many communities are experiencing. Pending legislation proposed by Texas House Representative Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) currently under consideration may do exactly that.
House Bill 800 introduced by Rep. Guillen increases penalties under Texas law for human smuggling by raising the mandatory minimum sentence for a conviction under the current statute to ten years in prison.
The bill would also require a minimum of five years in prison for persons convicted of operating a stash house used to facilitate human trafficking or drug smuggling. A person under this provision could also be charged with a third-degree felony punishable by up to ten years for any additional offenses committed.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX