“We need to make sure when people come into our country we know who you are” said Border Patrol agent Isaac Villegas during an exclusive report with KVEO’s Derick Garcia.
Hidalgo County is one of the highest trafficked areas in the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector.
McAllen’s station is responsible for patrolling 53 winding miles along the Rio Grande River.
Our cameras are getting a firsthand look at the dangers agents face on any given day.
8 year veteran, border patrol agent Isaac Villegas is in the driver’s seat of a Border Patrol unit.
Roderick “Rod” Kise, retired Army and Customs and Border Protection Public Affairs Officer, is riding shotgun.
The RGV Sector is made up of six stations located on the border and three in the upper Rio Grande Valley.
Villegas, Kise and KVEO is in Rincon village, one of the highest trafficked areas.
“I have a child for sure” said Agent Villegas pointing at foot prints in a dirt road.
Fresh footprints show people have passed through recently.
“I got an adult 1, that matches that, so that’s a different one, 2, that’s a different heel 3,”
Uncertain if the group has been apprehended by other agents, Villegas ops to wipe the tracks using a common tactic known as a tire drag.
This helps agents find drug runners and people crossing illegally.
After wiping the foot prints agent Villegas hears a familiar sound coming from the river.
On high alert, Villegas is laser focused on a potential threat.
Smugglers on Mexico’s side of the river spot us.
“Don’t be acting like you’re pointing something at me…
Did you see that? He acted like he was pointing a gun at me.” said agent Villegas
Agents often don’t know if they’re tracking, illegal immigrants surrendering or drug runners, who will do anything to protect their profits.
These smugglers who spotted us scurry back into Mexico’s brush but agent Villegas follows foot tracks along the river.
“You know what this means though? They’re probably hitting the other side. As long as they [smugglers] are talking to us here, they’re letting them know on the other landing. That we’re on this side.” Explained Villegas.
Villegas – “You got to understand our [Border Patrol] concern is they’re crossing them through here but then they got kids people that don’t know how to swim with no life vests. You were in the military, [if] these kids fall in, do you think they [smugglers] are going to go in to get them? Absolutely not. and he [smuggler] doesn’t want to get caught.”
DG- “and they [smugglers] still get paid?”
Villegas – “They get paid regardless. Yes and that’s the thing. Their raft is really what they [smugglers] want to hold on to because as you can see over here, I don’t know if they run into something or whatever it was but, their raft popped and those rafts in Mexico are $200, $300.”
A few hundred dollars is a big loss for some smugglers.
Meanwhile, back at his unit a group of immigrants surrender.
“hay más gente viniendo, [Are there more coming?] asked Villegas.
A majority of this group are unaccompanied minors.
A Honduran mother agreed to speak with us, “10 dias como hoy”
She said it took her daughter and son 10 days to travel.
A quick trip in comparison to others who have spent weeks and months traveling more than 1,100 miles.
Within minutes a transport unit arrives.
Everyone is required to remove shoelaces, belts and jewelry that can be a potential weapon or stolen.
They are taken to headquarters for processing.
Agent Villegas leads the way to another high trafficking area.
Quickly we find ourselves facing another potential danger.
A woman, infant and smuggler are rowing a dark gray raft,
As quickly as agent Villegas swooped in to stop them, we told to hide.
“[Smuggler] he’s got a gun on his waist. Fall back. Fall back.”
An agent can’t cross into Mexico but a smuggler’s bullets can cross into the U.S.
A scenario an agent opts to avoid.
As a Mexican military helicopter flies overhead, the smuggler, woman and child in the raft, head back to Mexico.
A quick walk back to where the first group surrendered is another taking their first steps on U.S. soil.
While helping a child up a steep hill, Villegas keeps his focus on smugglers who already have threatened him.
The smugglers continue to taunt agent Villegas, while protecting their coveted rafts.
As this group finds refuge, a familiar face follows.
The woman and child who shared the tense showdown with us surrenders.
DG – “So how many people would you all say you’re catching a day?
BP- “What we’re looking at right now it’s just ballpark average about 700 a day. On average and that’s sector-wide.”
Driving distance from Starr County to Brownsville, is just over 100 miles. Patrolling the winding river is more than 300 miles.
Cameron County in comparison to Hidalgo, Starr and Zapata has more technology to track smuggling.
Which explains the high apprehension figures.
The strain on the RGV Sector is apparent but the cycle continues; seek, surrender, avoid danger, process and repeat.
Our time with border patrol was cut short.
While filming this exclusive report – a border patrol agent and Department of Public Safety trooper were shot while patrolling the river in Starr County.
The agent was wearing bullet proof vest and did not suffer serious injury.
The trooper was shot in the pelvis with the bullet exiting his right leg.
In part two of our Exclusive Report, Border Lines: Surrender and Security, we’re taking the hard questions to RGV Sector’s top leadership.
For more on our coverage: www.rgvproud.com/news/border-lines-cycle-of-capture-process-release-and-repeat