KSAT 12 News reporter Tiffany Huertas and photojournalist Jason Foster accompanied U.S. Border Patrol agents, who offered a firsthand look at how they work to stop human smuggling.
Supervisory Border Patrol agent Robert Rodriguez explains the ongoing problem of human smuggling in Texas, and what can happen if victims fall into the wrong hands.
“If they do get past what we call our first line of defense here at the border, the smugglers will take them to stash houses. (There are) deplorable conditions in those stash houses,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of them taken advantage of sexually.”
While our crew was on a ride-along with agents, a group of women and children crossed over the border illegally and were detained.
Rubenia Ayala, who came from El Salvador with her son shared her story.
She said gangs in her community have already killed some of her loved ones.
“Our children are our gift from God. We have to fight for them,” Ayala said.
Some of the people caught crossing over include wanted criminals, according to Rodriguez.
“We have seen a significant increase in gang members that we have apprehended, specifically the Mala Salvatrucha better known as the MS 13,” Rodriguez said.
As these wanted people continue crossing, so do vulnerable families and children.
"Here in the RGV specifically, we have seen an uptick of family units and unaccompanied children being apprehended,” Border Patrol agent Marcelino Medina said.
According to CBP, just under 50,000 family units were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley in fiscal year 2017. That's more than any other border sector.
Medina said border patrol agents use technology including sensors, aerostats and towers. Pilots with the U.S. Customs Protection Air and Marine Operations Division also work with agents on the ground.
The Border Patrol has a campaign called “No Se Arriesgue” that offers immigrants a safer alternative by encouraging them to walk up to a port of entry and present themselves for entry and inspection.
The public is encouraged to report suspicious activity at 800-863-9382.