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To catch a human smuggler
by Christina Rowland
Jan 21, 2013 | 6212 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Searches like this one in 2011 are becoming more common as deputies spend more hours trying to stop undocumented immigrants as they enter the country.
Searches like this one in 2011 are becoming more common as deputies spend more hours trying to stop undocumented immigrants as they enter the country.
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There is not a question that undocumented immigrants come through Bee, Live Oak, Karnes, McMullen and Goliad counties every day. The question is what to do about it.

Many of the these counties are large with miles of rural roads and a limited number of sheriff’s office patrol deputies to man them.

Each county has done its best to come up with a feasible solution to the problem.

Bee

Bee County Sheriff’s Office, with a staff of 11, relies heavily on Operation Border Star and the grants it receives from the program.

Most recently, the county received $60,000 in Border Star grants, but, since the program was introduced in 2007, the county has received $500,000 in grants, according to Lt. Ronnie Jones of the BCSO.

Jones explained that officers aren’t paid overtime but rather compensatory time simply because the department doesn’t have the money in the budget for overtime.

The Border Star funds are used to pay for extra officers on the streets so the officers turn around and use their comp time to get extra Border Star shifts for which they are paid.

During the shifts, officers make “vehicular traffic stops” in hopes of stopping a vehicle containing undocumented immigrants.

While the officers must have probable cause to stop a vehicle with traffic laws more stringent than ever before, there are a number of reasons the officers can pull a vehicle over.

While the grants allow for more bodies on the street and more traffic stops to be made, the money isn’t free.

There is a lot of paperwork that has to be done for the grants.

Jones also said that, once a week, all the counties (approximately 22) participating in Border Star have a conference call for “intelligence gathering and networking.”

For example, if there is a spree of maroon vehicle thefts being used to transport people, this will let Bee County officers know to look out for older model maroon vehicles.

“...guys actually work together,” Sheriff Carlos Carrizales said. “That’s one of the things that make it (Border Star) successful; we don’t let our egos get in the way.”

If the Bee County Sheriffs Office does pull over a vehicle with undocumented immigrants inside, Border Patrol is called at once and the immigrants are transported to the SO, where they are held until Border Patrol arrives to pick them up.

Carrizales is proud to say that Border Star works. Bee County has detained 2,925 immigrants since the department started obtaining grants in 2007.

But he is not naive in the fact that he knows he does not catch every illegal who comes through his county.

“For every one that we get, three get away,” he said.

The percentages don’t deter him. The BCSO has already turned in its application for 2013 grants, and Carrizales hopes the department gets it.

Goliad

Bee County isn’t the only one that is having to deal with undocumented immigrants. Neighboring Goliad County has seen an increase last year.

Goliad County Sheriff Kirby Brumby said the county had a bailout almost every month during 2012.

“We are beginning to see males and females, and the ages are younger,” he said. “If the illegal person has a child in school, it gives them a pathway to stay.”

Brumby said that human smuggling can be very profitable.

“It’s $2,500 to go from Laredo to Houston (per person),” he said. “It’s better than drugs.”

If a person hauling immigrants is stopped, in most cases, all people will run from the vehicle, and people have a chance to get away. If a person is stopped with drugs, there is no way to hide it.

Goliad County also participates in Border Star.

“It helps a lot,” Brumby said. “One to two (officers) daily work in Border Star.”

According to the media and communications department for the Department of Public Safety, Goliad County received $40,000 in Border Star funds for 2012 and $63,201 for 2010 through 2011 grant period.

McMullen

While McMullen County Sheriff Emmett Shelton said he hasn’t seen an increase in the number of immigrants coming though his county, they are still coming.

“It’s been about the same as it has been the last couple of years,” he said. “In the past couple of months, it has even decreased somewhat.”

He thinks the decrease may be due to the amount of traffic coming through the area.

“The infrastructure is rural here, but the traffic is urban,” he said.

Hundreds, if not more, vehicles drive on State Highways 72 and 16 every day, but just a couple of years ago traffic was not the norm of the area.

He said he typically sees men traveling through his area.

McMullen, like other rural counties, has benefited from the Border Star grants and was awarded $75,000 for 2012.

Karnes

Dwayne Villanueva may be new as the Karnes County sheriff, but he is aware of the undocumented immigrant situation that is occurring across South Texas.

He said there have been bailouts on SH 71 and 81 as well as other roads in the county.

Typically, as soon as the department is aware of an immigrant bailout, DPS is called.

DPS brings in a helicopter to help recover and detain the immigrants.

While Karnes County returned the Border Star grants awarded in 2012 and did not apply during the 2010-2011 time frame, Villanueva said they will look at the situation again and “most likely will” apply for grants again in the future.

Live Oak

Live Oak County is a hot area for smugglers to come through. It is a big county with lots of rural roads and isn’t that far from the Valley.

In December 2012, there was a bailout of more than 30 undocumented immigrants in the county, and only 11 of them were recovered along with two stolen vehicles.

“We will have a hot period and then it will go a month or so and not run across anything,” he said.

Additionally, Live Oak has gone through a rash of stolen vehicles over the last few months and also has recovered vehicles in the county that were reported stolen from other places.

Sheriff Larry Busby said human smugglers rip out the back seat and console to fit more undocumented immigrants in the vehicle.

The vehicles found have exhibited those signs.

Live Oak’s rural location also has made it a place to drop bodies of immigrants who have passed during the transport.

There were three bodies found in Live Oak County this year believed to be immigrants who died of natural causes, possibly heat, according to Busby.

According to the media and communications department for the Department of Public Safety, Live Oak County has not applied for Border Star grants the last couple of years.

Busby said he uses seized drug money to pay for the overtime of officers because he doesn’t have enough staff to do all the administrative duties that comes with using the border star money.
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