The apprehension and arrests of MS-13 members in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Sector of South Texas are up 212 percent during the first three months of Fiscal Year 2018 over the same period in 2017.
“We are apprehending nearly one MS-13 gang member per day,” RGV Sector Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla, Jr. told Breitbart Texas in an interview on Thursday. “So far this year, we have apprehended 53 MS-13 gang members.” This number represents an increase of 212 percent over the same period in FY2017.
Padilla acknowledged the increase over the previous year and added the RGV Sector is leading the nation in these apprehensions. “Because of the large numbers of illegal crossings in this sector, we lead in a lot of categories,” the chief explained. Those categories include Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC), Family Unit Aliens (FMUA), stash houses, high-speed chases, and migrant deaths.
The RGV Sector made 46 percent of all apprehensions along the southwest border with Mexico during FY 2017, Padilla said. There are eight other sectors along the southwest border. In the first two months of FY 2018, the RGV apprehended nearly 10,000 according to recent figures reported by Breitbart Texas.
“The apprehension of these MS-13 gang members is a high priority for the RGV Sector and for this administration,” Padilla explained. He said this is because of the “gruesome activity” of these criminals in places like Houston, New York City, and Maryland. Breitbart Texas has reported extensively on the hyperviolent nature of the MS-13 gang–particularly in the communities mentioned by Chief Padilla.
“While a lot of the crimes committed across the country by MS-13 gang members were carried out by people who entered the U.S. as alien minors, the arrests we have made this year are all adults,” the chief explained. “Another thing we have noticed is the lack of tattoos that are normally used to identify these gang members.” He said it appears the gang members are trying to lay low and not be as visible because of the law enforcement pressure across the U.S.
In addition to the dangerous MS-13 gang, Padilla’s agents also apprehended 21 members of the 18th Street Gang–another El Salvador-based organization. He said this number is up from 10 the year before.
Padilla said they often find the members mixed in with other migrants. He labeled them, “the threat in the mix.”
“When we have a threat like this, it enables us an opportunity to work closely with other law enforcement agencies,” he expressed. “Those might be other agencies and departments in the U.S. interior. Or, it could be law enforcement partners in countries like El Salvador.”
“We are building a network to defeat a network,” Padilla stated.
The chief said there are consequences for the gang members when they are apprehended after illegally crossing the border.
“If they have no prior U.S. criminal history, they are subject to a ‘controlled deportation’,” the chief explained. The gang members are not deported with others simply being returned in mass to their country of origin, he said. Instead, they are turned directly over to law enforcement officials in their home country.
“They are not just released,” he stated.
Those who have previous U.S. criminal histories or deportations face a different path. A gang member with prior removals but no other criminal history faces felony prosecution for illegal re-entry. “This is a violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326, which provides a penalty of two to five years in prison,” he said.
For previously deported criminal gang members, the penalty is much more severe. “This is an aggravated felony where the penalty can range up to 20 years in prison,” the chief emphasized.
Breitbart Texas previously reported on MS-13 gang members who are fugitives in their own country. In April 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations officers deported Aristides Inoc Juarez-Villalobos, 21, an MS-13 gang member wanted in his home country for violent crimes, including murder.
ICE officials report over 630 criminal aliens have been returned to El Salvador over the past four years as part of the SAFE Initiative (Security Alliance for Fugitive Enforcement). The program is designed to identify foreign fugitives wanted internationally. The 630 Salvadorans were all sought by the El Salvador National Police Force.
One of Chief Padilla’s top issues he faces is reducing the number of migrant deaths–a statistic he does not want to lead the nation in.
During one week alone in December, a patch of unusually cold weather led to the deaths of 10–eight alone in Brooks County, Breitbart Texas reported.
Fortunately, the numbers in FY 2017 were down roughly 20 percent from the previous year. In the RGV sector, agents recovered the bodies or remains of 104 illegal aliens. In FY 2016, 132 bodies were recovered, the chief reported.
“We are combating this, primarily in Brooks County, by targeting the areas were the human smugglers drop off the migrants to march around the checkpoint,” he explained. Their goal, he said, is to save lives by apprehending them before they get into dangerous situations that frequently lead to serious injury, illness, or death.
This year, his sector rolled out the “Missing Migrant Program” with a focus on saving lives. When that fails, the program’s objective is to reunite the family with the deceased migrant’s body or remains.
Human smuggling in big rigs is another area of concern.
“We are trying to raise community awareness of this very dangerous practice where human smugglers pack these migrants into the back of 18-wheelers,” he said. “We want people who see people being loaded into trailers and trucks to call in and report the activity. This action will save lives,” he expressed.
Finally, Chief Padilla said his sector is also seeing a massive increase in the seizure of hard drugs.
“We have seen a 172 percent increase in the amount of cocaine seized this year,” he reported. “In the past three months, our agents seized 463 pounds of cocaine.” He estimated the value of these drugs at nearly $15 million.
He said that during this same period that the seizure of marijuana is down. “The smugglers are turning more to hard drugs,” Padilla said.
The RGV sector is now the focal point for border security enforcement. Because of the increases in border crossing and drug smuggling activities of the Mexican cartels, the RGV sector will be the highest priority for additional manpower, new technology, and additional walls and fences.