Law enforcement officials in Zavala County, Texas, say human smugglers are back to business as usual following a brief lull in activity on Texas roadways after the end of the Title 42 COVID-19 expulsion authority. Located a mere 30 miles from the Rio Grande border with Mexico, sheriff’s office deputies in the rural county thwarted 15 migrant smuggling cases in the last seven days.
With just a few deputies on duty to patrol a myriad of roadways leading away from the Texas-Mexico border, the smugglers are once again taxing the county’s limited resources and creating dangerous conditions on isolated two-lane roadways. Zavala County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Ricardo Rios told Breitbart Texas, “It’s back to business as usual” regarding the latest encounters in his county.
The smugglers, often using recently stolen vehicles, are leading the deputies on high-speed pursuits that usually result in significant property damage and injuries to the drivers and migrants being smuggled. 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.
In one of the 15 cases from the recent seven-day period, deputies initiated a vehicle pursuit that moved from a rural county roadway into the city of La Pryor, Texas. The pursuit ended after a Texas Highway Patrol trooper managed to successfully deploy a tire deflation device.
The driver in that incident was found to be a Mexican national who required medical treatment after allegedly swallowing a heroin-filled balloon. The driver caused significant property damage after he crashed into the fence of a private residence.
The return of the migrant smuggling activity in the area is once again creating an additional burden on the small department whose primary responsibility is responding to local crimes. In all, 44 migrants were apprehended after being arrested by the deputies. In several cases, suspected migrants and drivers were able to abscond from the vehicles and elude apprehension. Deputies reported several instances where up to ten migrants managed to disappear into private ranches and escape.
Zavala County is a challenging environment for the deputies patrolling the county’s multitude of roadways. These include numerous farm-to-market roads that allow smugglers easy egress from the border region. The migrants the deputies encounter in the smuggling cases are those who first manage to escape apprehension at the border.
In May, as reported by Breitbart Texas, nearly 51,000 migrants were reported as known got-aways by the Border Patrol.
Nine drivers were arrested and charged with Smuggling of Persons, a felony offense under Texas law. 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 10 years.
The penalties for the offense of Smuggling of Persons may soon increase depending on the results of a special legislative session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The session will specifically address increasing the criminal penalties for certain criminal conduct involving the smuggling of persons or the operation of a stash house.
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.