AUSTIN, Texas — Texas law enforcement and soldiers sent to the border under a state initiative that began in March have encountered more than 165,000 people presumed to have illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border or are themselves smuggling people, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Lt. Chris Olivarez, spokesman for the Texas DPS’s South Region, said during a press conference Thursday that his agency's troopers, along with National Guard soldiers, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have apprehended and referred 165,000 people to relevant law enforcement for arrest over the past nine months.
The large majority of the 165,000 were apprehended and referred to another agency, such as the U.S. Border Patrol, for arrest. The National Guard apprehended 84,000 of the 165,000.
Approximately 9,900 of the 165,000 were arrested on criminal trespassing charges, including 2,200 in the Del Rio, Texas, region, where tens of thousands of Haitian migrants came across the border in September and created a makeshift camp under the international bridge.
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DPS officers have engaged in more than 1,000 vehicle chases since March. On Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving, a DPS trooper attempted to stop the driver of a Ford pickup truck suspected of smuggling illegal immigrants. The driver did not pull over and led police on a chase. The truck crashed, resulting in the deaths of two people on board. Eleven other people inside were injured and taken to a local hospital. The driver, who Olivarez said had been recently caught by Border Patrol illegally entering the country and was immediately returned to Mexico under the Title 42 pandemic protocols, was charged with human smuggling and evading arrest.
In another incident on Nov. 28, a DPS trooper working in Kinney County stopped a U-Haul truck and found 12 people being smuggled in the back. The driver and passenger in the front of the truck were from Oklahoma and members of the Crips gang.
"One thing about Del Rio that makes it unique is that we're seeing a lot of smugglers or individuals are coming from larger cities — Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, even out of state," said Olivarez. "They come down to the Rio Grande Valley or more specifically to Del Rio to become human smugglers because a lot ... has been advertised on social media by the criminal organizations."
The uptick in vehicle pursuits is due to the smuggling organizations recruiting more drivers, as well as the DPS increasing its presence, thereby having more officers on the roads to pull over suspicious vehicles.
"You're going to see an uptick in vehicle pursuits because, again, these individuals, they don't want to be caught," he said. "The whole purpose for them is they want to get away from law enforcement. That's their primary focus, to get away and to get those migrants to where they need to get because, obviously, it's a commodity to them. And they're here for profit. They want to get the money."
Other smugglers have been caught by Texas authorities attempting to move drugs into the United States from Mexico. Since March, Texas officials have intercepted more than 13,000 pounds of marijuana, 2,400 pounds of cocaine, 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine, and 157 pounds of fentanyl.
As the number of people illegally crossing the southern border began to spike after President Joe Biden took office, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, in March, created a statewide initiative, known as Operation Lone Star, in which state troopers from DPS would be sent to the border to help arrest trespassers while Border Patrol agents were pulled from the field to transport and process people in custody.
In a letter sent on July 27, Abbott ordered Texas Military Department Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris to take new action. Abbott cited Article IV, Section 7 of the Texas Constitution’s authority for the governor to "call forth the militia to execute the laws of the State” and instructed Norris to do so.
Under normal circumstances, members of the military are not allowed to apprehend people. Until July, state military forces sent to the border assisted Border Patrol, state police, and local law enforcement in ways that did not cause them to interact with migrants. They manned surveillance cameras and watched the border, among other tasks.
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The Posse Comitatus Act forbids federal military such as the U.S. Army from enforcing civilian law without the approval of Congress, which is irrelevant to state military forces.