During a presentation to emergency planners, business representatives and community members in McMullen County, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Christopher Olivarez presented a picture of the border crisis that shows the state is under siege.
In June, 180,000 undocumented immigrants were apprehended, and in July the number rose to 200,000.
“That’s the ones we are catching,” Olivarez said. “There are others who are getting through. It’s not just a big concern to us close to the border, it’s something that is a vital issue to the rest of the state and to other states as well.”
Since March, the DPS has deployed 500 officers to assist the overwhelmed U.S. Border Patrol, and 1,000 members of the Texas National Guard have assisted, as well. In addition, officers from Nebraska, Florida, Iowa and Ohio have also come to help back up Texas personnel, but the crisis continues as people flood the border.
“The number of people we have responding is very significant, but we are seeing an unprecedented number cross the border,” Olivarez said. “There have been 4,600 criminal arrests, 400 criminal trespass charges and 62,000 migrant referrals to U.S. Border Patrol. There have been 649 vehicle pursuits.
“There has also been a significant amount of drugs seized, including 725 pounds of cocaine, 127 pounds of fentanyl, 8,000 pounds of marijuana, 1,400 pounds of meth and $3.8 million in currency. There have also been 272 firearms seized, including high powered rifles and military grade weapons that are crossing the border to supply the cartels.”
Although undocumented immigrants include families and unaccompanied children, officers have also detained several gang members interspersed among them, Olivarez said.
“All of these weapons are very concerning to law enforcement,” he said. “Over 3,500 rounds of ammo has been seized, and 20 AR-15 rifles and a .50 caliber gun. That’s only what we’re finding. There’s more that is getting by us.”
Stash houses have also been raided, and 115 undocumented immigrants detained in one with 111 found in another, Olivarez said.
“The cartels are taking advantage of the chaos and they are definitely exploiting the situation on the border,” he said.
Among the slides he showed included wristbands worn by migrants crossing the border with the names of cartels imprinted on the wristbands so the cartels can keep track of the people they are shepherding.
“It’s not just illegal immigrants, there are a lot of drugs involved and criminal organizations,” Olivarez said.
Those organizations are also using social media sites to recruit youths into providing transportation for them, offering thousands of dollars. Several youths have been arrested as a result, including a 17-year-old who was detained in McMullen County.
In addition to battling crime, the DPS also helps with rescue operations to help those who become injured, dehydrated or to assist unaccompanied children.
Those rescues included saving a woman who lost her leg as a result of an injury and securing children who were floating by themselves on a raft down the Rio Grande.
“The reality is this has always been an issue, but this year we are seeing historic numbers flood our border,” Olivarez said. “You hear about it on the news, but seeing it from the perspective of the people on the ground responding helps you get a better idea of the scope of this crisis. Border Patrol is overwhelmed, so we’ve stepped up, and other agencies have stepped up, to help make a difference.
“This not only affects our communities in South Texas, it affects people everywhere. Our priority is safety. The tactics of the cartels and criminal gangs are evolving and we are seeing things we have never seen before. Right now, their big money maker is moving people across.”
A deputy with the McMullen County Sheriff’s Office said since April, “we’ve arrested a significant number of people age 17, 18, 19, or 20 who are out of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida who were recruited on social media (to help smuggle undocumented immigrants) and they are being promised $500 a head.
“Initially it was a surprise to see those young kids involved in lawlessness. I don’t think they understand the seriousness of what they’re doing.”
McMullen County Judge James Teal said before he took office, a friend asked him what he was going to do “when the border collapses and you have 20,000 migrants coming across McMullen County.”
Teal said he could not even begin to fathom such a thing.
“I never dreamed we’d have something going on like what we are facing right now,” he said. “We are going to have to take responsibility – demand for drugs is causing a lot of the problem.
“Every time someone does a line of cocaine or rolls a joint – that’s what is fueling a lot of this chaos.”
Teal said he was thankful for the efforts of the DPS and other agencies involved in Operation Lone Star.
“You guys are on the front lines and we appreciate you,” he said. “We appreciate the partnerships we’ve formed and all the efforts that go in to keeping us safe.”