(The Center Square) – Texas law enforcement officers continue to thwart human smuggling operations through Operation Lone star as cartel operatives and gang members transport people north into the U.S. who’ve illegally entered Texas from over 150 countries through Mexico.
In what is a daily occurrence in towns throughout Texas, law enforcement officers are stopping people driving south from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio to border counties to pick up illegal foreign nationals and drive them north. Cartels and gangs advertise on social media for drivers, offering to pay several hundred dollars to transport people short distances. Law enforcement sources say they offer several thousand dollars per person transported for longer distances.
The cartels and gangs pay the driver, a debt that’s owed by the trafficked individual and paid off through indentured servitude, law enforcement officers have explained to The Center Square. No one enters the U.S. for free, and few have thousands of dollars in cash to pay to be smuggled into the U.S. Those smuggled in, once brought to their destination, work to pay what they owe. Their identification papers, earnings, and movement are all controlled by gang members and cartel operatives.
Drivers answering the social media ads who are caught are charged with human smuggling, a felony that carries a hefty prison sentence.
One recently arrested driver, a Hispanic woman from Houston, was apprehended on Highway 57 in the border county of Zavala. She was driving a Mercedes SUV attempting to transport illegal foreign nationals north. One of her passengers was a Hispanic man from Palacios known to law enforcement as a Tango Blast gang member.
Once she stopped, three people bailed out and ran toward the brush – they weren’t apprehended. She and the gang member were arrested and charged with human smuggling and unlawful possession of a weapon. Six people still inside the vehicle who didn’t abscond were crammed inside the trunk area, including four men, one woman and a 9-year-old. They were all illegally in the U.S.
Another recent arrest was of a Honduran felon in the border county of Kinney. In this case, DPS troopers were led on a high-speed pursuit on Highway 90 by a Honduran man with a felony record who was in the U.S. illegally after previously being deported.
The pursuit was initially on the highway but went off-road into the brush, where the driver and passengers jumped out and ran away. Police officers pursued them, climbing over a barbed wire fence onto private property to apprehend them.
The Honduran felon was arrested for smuggling persons and evading arrest. In total, four illegal foreign nationals – all young men – who evaded arrest were apprehended and referred to Border Patrol.
Texas National Guard soldiers are also working to thwart human smuggling. As part of Operation Lone Star, soldiers continue to apprehend individuals criminally trespassing on private property. SGT Michael Thomas, Kilo Co. medic and team leader in Laredo said, “it’s not just DPS that thank us. We have people when we’re in town … coming up to us all the time to thank us for our assistance.”
Since Gov. Greg Abbott launched OLS last March, Texas law enforcement efforts combined have led to over 321,000 apprehensions of illegal foreign nationals, and made more than 21,400 criminal arrests, with more than 18,900 felony charges reported. They’ve also seized over 350 million lethal doses of fentanyl—enough to kill everyone in the United States.