Human smuggling traffic stops increase in counties miles and hours away from border, officials say

Junction police see cases rise from 1 in 2020 to 33 year to date

Human smuggling stops increase in counties miles and hours away from border, officials say

KIMBLE COUNTY, Texas – Human smuggling cases are on the rise in counties not typically used to seeing those types of offenses.

In Kimble County, Junction police say their human smuggling cases went from one in 2020 to 33 year to date.

Detective Ruben Sauceda says they’re dealing with drivers plowing into private property and some patrol vehicles being damaged because of those rough chases.

“When these instances happen, it’s all hands on deck,” Sauceda said.

That means all officers in the city and county are called in to help, putting other calls on hold.

“Today, we were in a pursuit with Egyptians that were in a box truck,” Sauceda said, referring to the dangers the community faces when heavy-duty vehicles are involved.

Without a tax base to hire more officers, they’re counting on federal and state funds to help increase their resources.

“We’ve submitted for a couple of drones for Operation Lone Star. We’ve also submitted for some sort of a UTB or ATV to assist us in being able to cover a lot more terrain,” Sauceda said.

In neighboring Kerr County, sheriff investigators also see those smuggling cases spillover. They had six smuggling suspects in six separate incidents in one week. The rise in cases started around June.

Smugglers told Capt. Jason Waldrip that they were recruited on social media.

“He was actually watching Tik Tok videos, and the people that are recruiting drivers were advertising. ‘Hey, you can make good money doing this on Tik Tok,’” Waldrip said.

The job can pay thousands per person, so Waldrip’s county is making it less appealing by building strong cases and tacking on firm charges, as well as using the forfeiture seizure laws to take vehicles and electronic devices. “It’s risk and reward. So right now, the reward seems pretty good,” he said about increasing the penalty.

Kerr County is placing investigators on traffic patrol to put more eyes on the road and build stronger cases.

“We’re going to be paying more attention to traffic violations. We’re going to try to make more contacts with vehicles that on the highway,” Waldrip said.

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.