As human smuggling efforts are spiking at the border, so too are state and federal enforcement operations.

Recent remarks from local and state officials indicate as much, with Gov. Abbott taking to Twitter on Sunday to announce that he’s ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to deploy more authorities and “use every legal tool possible, to crack down on these smuggling operations.”

Details, however, were lacking in a statement from DPS on Wednesday. It does, however, acknowledge collaboration between federal and state law enforcement agencies.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety is continuously monitoring events and their impact on border security,” the statement read. “DPS provides direct support to our local, state and federal partners, including the U.S. Border Patrol, to enhance security along the Texas-Mexico border.”

The majority of people entering the country illegally continue to be expelled under a Trump-era policy stemming from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order invoking a federal code known as Title 42. Therefore, some who are entering now, particularly single men, may consider smuggling an attractive option.

Changes addressing immigration along the border began when President Joe Biden took office on Jan. 20, impacting those who are lawfully seeking asylum, and those who enter the country circumventing detection.

U.S. Border Patrol agents reported an uptick in early February when large groups of migrants entered the country through the western part of Hidalgo County. Up until that point, groups remained under the double digits, but since then they’ve increased in groups above 100 people.

Smuggling events increased in size, too.

Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said he noticed an increase in large-scale human smuggling since February. He said deputies are now assisting the U.S. Border Patrol almost every day on dismantling stash houses.

The sheriff also said they’re starting to see a lot of “failure to yields” — an attempt by Border Patrol agents to pull over suspicious vehicles, which turn into pursuits on the road and property damage for private landowners.

During a meeting in early February between the sheriff, landowners and the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, Guerra said the Border Patrol chief informed that more agents were moved off the roadways and onto the front lines.

“It’s up to the secondary partners, myself, DPS, and our constables who are working Operation Stonegarden to fill in the gaps for federal partners up in the highways and trying to help them in those areas,” Guerra said.

Sheriff’s deputies are also responding to more calls of migrants lost or injured in the county, an incident that happened as recent as Monday. Guerra said there are five to six deputies dedicated to assisting federal partners throughout the day, through Operation Stonegarden.

As a result, U.S. Customs and Border Protection also recently confirmed that it is sending additional personnel to the Rio Grande Valley.

“Due to fluctuations along the Southwest Border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is deploying additional Border Patrol agents to the Rio Grande Valley Sector area of operation.  CBP seeks to deter and disrupt human smuggling activities by transnational criminal organizations and ensure our personnel are properly equipped to maintain border security,” the agency said in a statement.

OPERATIONAL PRECEDENT

The increase in state and federal law enforcement presence and their partnership with local agencies to deter smuggling at the border are not unlike previous DPS operations during so-called “surges” of migrants crossing illegally into the U.S.

Former Gov. Rick Perry in 2005 announced the implementation of Operation Linebacker, which provided funds to sheriff departments and DPS to create “a second line of defense” for Border Patrol.

This program was implemented in 2006 and that same year, DPS also participated in Operation Rio Grande, which was an effort to combat organized smuggling activity between ports of entry.

Between 2006 and 2015, legislative records indicate that DPS has participated in a little more than 52 state-initiated border operations.

Those efforts ramped up during 2013 and 2014 with Operation Strong Safety and Operation Strong Safety II, which were in response to immigration surges during former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Changes in federal policies made in D.C. are affecting different flows of immigration.

On Biden’s first day in office, the Department of Homeland Security announced the suspension of new enrollments into the Migrant Protection Protocols program, the Trump-era program also known as “Remain in Mexico.” The program sent over 70,000 migrants to Mexico to wait for their U.S. immigration court hearings.

On Jan. 24, U.S. Border Patrol started to release newly arrived migrant families seeking asylum into the Rio Grande Valley. That same week, a constable deputy who assists in providing surveillance along the border said U.S. Border Patrol began using outdoor processing areas.

Nonprofit shelters in McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville receive the families released from federal custody and offer them food, guidance coordinating their travel, and overnight shelter if their plans are delayed into the next day.

More migrants, who lawfully requested asylum under MPP and were living in Mexico for nearly two years, were released in the Rio Grande Valley late February. Shelters continue assisting all released migrants.

Under Title 42, CBP reported expelling over 247,000 people along the southwest border from October 2020 to January 2021.


vgonzalez@themonitor.com 

Staff writer Mark Reagan contributed to this report.