Smugglers and scouts outnumber sheriff’s deputies in counties like Brooks

Nearly 200 smuggling cases this year, per Brooks County Sheriffs Office

Brooks County Sheriffs Office deputy, Sam Rosas is on the lookout for suspicious vehicles possibly linked to smuggling of migrants. (Alicia Barrera, Copyright 2022 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

BROOKS COUNTY, Texas – It’s an operation that Brooks County sheriff’s deputies say knows no time and has no bounds. Smuggling of migrants can happen in backroads or in high-traffic areas.

Brooks County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sam Rosas looks out for suspicious vehicles possibly linked to the smuggling of migrants. He is only one of five patrol deputies.

“It’s about 960 square miles for this county,” Rosas said. “It’s mostly brush country. We have four deputies on patrol and then one on shift. One (patrol deputy) a night and then one day shift, and that’s it.”

He makes his rounds along Highway 281 through cities, including Encino and Falfurrias.

“North of the checkpoint, that’s where (smugglers) pick up (migrants),” Rosas said. “That’s where it gets more complicated. It’s a lot harder to find the vehicles that are coming from northern states.”

So far this year, Brooks County reports 170 drivers charged for smuggling migrants.

“(Smugglers) can load up 10 to 15 bodies in less than 15, 30 seconds. It doesn’t take that long,” Rosas said.

Although the sheriff’s office is understaffed, roadways are constantly patrolled by other local, state and federal agencies.

“This memorandum of understanding that we have (since Operation Lone Star) with other counties throughout the coast all the way up to Fort Bend, it helps us identify these (stolen) vehicles,” said Brooks County Sheriff Benny Martínez.

“Then we can detain them here. They can definitely detain them as they travel because we do still have locals that are into the smuggling operations,” Martínez added. “We have people from Houston that drive down in stolen trucks. We have property damaged constantly.”

According to Rosas, smugglers do not always seek the backroads to pile in migrants.

“Usually, south of the (Border Patrol Falfurrias) checkpoint, they drop off,” Rosas said. “It can be anywhere between the Hidalgo County line (and) the checkpoint, and then north of the checkpoint (is) where (smugglers) pick up. That’s where it gets more complicated. It’s a lot harder to find the vehicles that are coming from northern states.”

And while deputies keep an eye out for smugglers, scouts are on the lookout for deputies. Scouts help alert the smugglers that deputies are present. Currently, more help and funding are needed, according to Martínez.

“I need more boots on the ground, you know,” Martínez said. “At least on the minimum between 15 or 20 deputies can sustain this. And then you can create your own constant rescue crew that can help.”

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About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.