Police Chief Gerald Arismendez said the operation broke a human smuggling ring that was using Mathis as a staging area. The Department of Homeland Security, ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol were also involved.
"In the past, Mathis has been used as a place for illegal activities; people thought they could get away with it," Arismendez said. "Now, we're trying to send the message that criminals can't come to Mathis...if you do, you're gonna get caught."
Arismendez said the ring would leave cars parked at the Texas Star truck stop overnight, while the drivers spent the night in a local motel. Illegals were hiding out in the brush outside the city limits with "brush guides" to assist them in meeting the vehicles.
Drivers began arriving in the late afternoon, around 5 p.m., with several moving vehicles to the gas pumps for fueling before heading out.
As the drivers began to arrive, officers were waiting at the scene. After all of them were on the property, police moved in and apprehended 10 individuals, including two females and seized eight vehicles.
"This was Phase 1," Arismendez said. "We wanted to get everybody and their vehicles without involving an bystanders."
Four of the drivers ran into the Texas Star convenience store, but they were identified and taken into custody without incident.
Phase 2 involved rounding up the illegals waiting in the brush. For this phase, the operation utilized the Border Patrol helicopter, which is equipped with FLIR (thermal) imaging. Officers waited until after dark, when the sweltering July temperature had started to cool down, which allowed for better performance of the FLIR system.
After locating the bulk of the reported 60 illegals, officers approached the area in the seized vehicles, honking the horns to signal for them to come out of the brush and load up.
As they emerged from the brush and headed for the vehicles, officers closed in and apprehended 49 persons, 39 adults and 10 children.
All of them were taken into custody by the Border Patrol.
"It was a big success all the way around," Arismendez said. "We got the vehicles, the smugglers and the illegals. These kinds of operations are also good for establishing and cultivating relationships with different federal agencies."
"We want to bring credibility and confidence in this department back within the law enforcement community," he added.
Officers used the Mathis PD as a staging area, to set up prior to the operation and again that night as they waited for the Border Patrol to transport the illegals.
"We wanted to do this without incident," Arismendez said. "That was the key."