By Nick Stein
Today’s mission was with the Rio Grande City brush crew, who are responsible for driving 40 to 50 mile north and northeast of the Border Patrol station to search, detain and rescue groups of illegal immigrants who have been dropped off on vast ranch land to try and circumnavigate the Falfurrias checkpoint. Inevitably, it takes hours to look for and “cut sign” to try and see where these travelers went and then to “leapfrog” ahead to apprehend them.
Charismatic Supervisory Agent Mike Salinas gathers his team of 7 Brush Team agents in front of a map and discusses the strategy for the day. He talks about the heat, and the ticks and rattlesnakes that will be out there. Mike tells them to mount up and “let’s be safe out there.” There hadn’t been a night crew to hand us fresh intel, so we were very lucky that a group of agents working north of us spotted a group of about 10 crossers. The race was on.
Another agent talks about the whole strategy of smuggling in this area – how no one walks the 40 or 50 miles from the Rio Grande River to where we were and how it’s all part of an organized transportation system run by human smuggling organizations. After crossing the river, the illegal immigrants go to stash houses, get picked up and driven to ranchland south of the checkpoint, then walk about 20 miles north of the checkpoint, get picked up again, get dropped off in San Antonio or Houston, and then are distributed to their final destination. We hear about how the illegal immigrants brush out their sign with towels and branches, how wind and animals break down the sign, about the food they carry, how coyotes are the first to bail when Border Patrol shows up and how many of the coyotes are U.S. citizens as young as 15 or 16 year old, and how smugglers use 3 legged stools to place across the road for IA’s to cross, so no footprints are left behind for agents to find.
Mike mentioned that on some shifts, you can go almost the entire shift before something suddenly happens. This turned out to be the case tonight. Word came that illegal immigrants had been spotted about 5 miles north of us. We booked it over very rough ranch road and ended up at a gate with a rusty lock. Agent Rolando Puente released his K-9 Archi, who followed his nose to the runners. Meanwhile, the Office of Air and Marine’s fixed wing plane, code-named “Omaha,” arrived and circled around looking for suspects. Archi and the team eventually apprehended the ten illegal immigrants. Rolando had gotten a big cut on his face and was bleeding. He talks about Archi – how wiped out he was and needed rest – like a proud father. He said, “He makes me look good.”
Tune in to Border Wars: Animals on the Frontline Tonight at 9P