On a hot August afternoon, 11 migrants tried to illegally enter the U.S. by floating across the Rio Grande River in a black inner tube, but were turned around when Border Patrol agents showed up on a boat.
"They’ll be back," said Mike Contreras, Laredo Sector Border Patrol special operations supervisor. “They’ll make several attempts until eventually they’re successful. They pay a lot of good money.”
Though the number of apprehensions on the southwest border in the U.S. is down this year, Contreras said the Laredo Sector Border Patrol is still apprehending migrants daily.
In August 2016, there were over 50,000 apprehensions and inadmissibles on the border, but in August 2017, there were only about 30,000.
The Laredo Sector is one of nine Border Patrol agencies on the southwest border and covers more than 100,000 square miles in Texas, including over 170 miles of land on the border. It employs about 1,600 agents.
"When you look at it and you think about it, it’s not lot of manpower along the border there," Contreras said.
Technology like sensors and cameras along the border help agents patrol the area. The footage is monitored in a control room at the Laredo Sector headquarters, and agents are alerted when there might be illegal activity.
And while agents are patrolling the U.S. side of the border, Contreras said cartels control almost all of the activity on the Mexican side. When migrants attempt to come into the U.S. undetected, the cartel tells them when, how and where to cross.
"That’s how sophisticated these organizations are," Contreras said.
And the cartels' power does not end at the border. According to Contrera, the cartels in Mexico have cells in the U.S. that continue the process.
“You have cells that pick them (migrants) up, and then you have cells that stash them in either stash houses, and then from there they get loaded into another vehicle or into the back of tractor-trailers, and then from here they either try to attempt to get smuggled through the checkpoint or around the checkpoint,” Contreras said.
And if migrants are able to get past agents at the border, Border Patrol has a traffic checkpoint about 29 miles north of the port of entry into the U.S. that will check cars and tractor-trailers for any illegal activity.
The Laredo North traffic checkpoint is one of the largest in the country, with an average of 1.2 million commercial trucks passing through each year.
All vehicles that pass through the checkpoint will have their license plates scanned and agents will talk to the drivers. If anything seems suspicious, then agents will send the truck through an x-ray scanner to see if there is anything illegal, like migrants or narcotics, hidden in the back of the truck.
“This is a layered approach that any illicit activity was conducted from when they crossed from Mexico to the U.S., we will stop them or prevent them from furthering their route into the United States, going up to California or San Antonio, this is the place where we stop it,” said Mike Lata, Laredo North Border Patrol agent in charge.
But even with the technology and agents on the border and the traffic checkpoint on the highway, Contreras said, cartels make a lot of money by smuggling in people and narcotics, so they will continue to find a way to get into the U.S.
"They don’t care if it’s a person or narcotics, at the end of the day all they want is the money and so they treat everything like a commodity to try to get it across the border and through us," Contreras said.
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