Apprehensions by the US Border Patrol of persons who’ve illegally entered the United States by way of the Southwest Border have risen to the highest level in nearly 45 years in the departement’s Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Sector, according to data Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provided to Homeland Security Today.
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, the nearly 94,000 apprehensions in the RGV marked the first time this Border Patrol Sector has had the highest number of apprehensions of illegals in any Southwest border sector since FY 1965, when there were 8,057 illegals apprehended within the RGV Sector.
According to CBP, in FY 2012, there were 97,762 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley jurisdiction of Border Patrol, which was just below the 120,000 illegal aliens who were apprehended by Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector (TCA). In FY 2013, 89,822 illegal aliens were apprehended in the Tucson Sector.
Apprehensions dipped below other sectors for the first time in FY 2013 after having largely exploded into consistent triple digits in 1994.
The numbers of persons categorized by CBP as “Other Than Mexicans” (OTMs) — which includes illegal aliens referred to as “Special Interest Aliens” (SIA) who are from countries that support or harbor Islamist terrorists — aren’t yet available for FY 2013, CBP said. However, there were almost 50,000 who were caught in the RGV in FY 2012, the highest number since FY 2007 and the most OTMs apprehended in any of Border Patrol’s Southwest border sectors. OTMs arrested in the RGV accounted for more than half of all OTMs Border Patrol apprehended along the Southern border in FY 2012, according to CBP data.
Similarly, “[the RGV also is] were half of the SIAs have crossed,” said a law enforcement official familiar with the issue, who added: “[and] if there’s new activity in this region, it would mean that there’s a lot more [SIA smuggling] activity going on.”
The number of SIAs apprehended across Southwest Border Patrol Sectors in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 were dramatically higher in the RGV than in any other sector.
Federal and state officials familiar with the matter confirmed that the RGV region has become the new “hot spot” for TCOs and OTMs.
Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector has nine stations (Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Falfurrias, Fort Brown, Harlingen, Kingsville, McAllen, Rio Grande City and Weslaco), two checkpoints, air and marine operations and an intelligence office. Sector agents patrol over 320 river miles, 250 coastal miles and 19 counties equating to more than 17,000 square miles. It’s a land mass that Border Patrol said includes land that’s just as inhospitable as that in the Tucson Sector.
For Fiscal Year 1999 through FY 2010, vjust fewer than 700,000 OTMs were apprehended by Border Patrol between land Ports of Entry on the Southwest border, according to CBP’s figures.
Although OTM numbers are not yet available for FY 2013, CBP said in a statement provided to Homeland Security Today that “An increase in apprehensions was noted in south Texas, specifically of individuals from Central American countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.”
Homeland Security Today first exclusively reported in Dec. 2011 that Mexican-based Transnational Criminal Organizations’ smuggling of drugs, and the illegal entry of SIAs who may pose a threat to national security into the RGV, had escalated so quickly that Border Patrol and law enforcement officials began refering to the (Rio Grande) “Valley” as “the new Arizona.”
While drug and human smuggling in Arizona continues at a brisk pace, the RGV has become “ground zero” on the southern border for narco-trafficking and the illegal smuggling of citizens from countries other than Mexico, according to authorities familiar with the matter interviewed by Homeland Security Today.
“Based on the numbers we’re seeing, [the] RGV appears to be the preferred route for Other Than Mexicans,” a law enforcement official said.
According to numbers provided by CBP, approximately 20,000 OTMs were apprehended in Border Patrol’s RGV Sector in FY 2011, while more than 6,000 additional non-Mexicans were nabbed in the nearby Laredo Sector, compared to the 11,000 OTMs who were apprehended in the Tucson Sector in FY 2011.
Data made available by CBP to Homeland Security Today show that in FY 2011, there were more than 42,000 apprehensions of non-recidivist illegal aliens in the RGV — the second highest number after the 76,000 who were apprehended in the Tucson Sector, and that the RGV accounted for the second highest number of seizures of contraband in FY 2011 — 3,730, compared to 5,299 in the Tucson Sector.
Federal and state law enforcement officials familiar with the RGV acknowledged that the “Valley” is becoming the next big narco-trafficking “problem area” for Border Patrol and CBP. One particular area of the RGV is called “smugglers alley” by Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) pilots.
Despite critics’ assertions that the southern border remains as porous as Swiss Cheese and that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s frequently lambasted testimony before Congress that the southern border is as secure as it’s ever been, DHS metrics do tend to indicate that security on the southern border has, and is, improving as Border Patrol fully implements its new five-year national border security strategy, first exclusively reported by Homeland Security Today.
Coinciding with significantly improved Southwest border security, across the border, “in Fiscal Year 2012, Border Patrol apprehension activity remained at historic lows,” CBP said, noting that “Apprehensions in California, Arizona and New Mexico continued a downward trend, reflecting fewer individuals crossing the border. In FY 2012, apprehensions were 79 percent below their peak in 2000, and down 50 percent from FY 2008.”
“Significant border-wide investments in additional enforcement resources and enhanced operational tactics and strategy have enabled CBP to address the changing composition of attempted crossers and maintain border security,” the department said in a statement Wednesday.
“Under this administration, the Department of Homeland Security has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology and resources to the Southwest border” and “CBP has more than doubled the size of the US Border Patrol since 2004,” CBP said. “In FY 2012, CBP employed over 21,300 Border Patrol agents, keeping staffing levels along the border at an all-time high. Additionally, CBP continues to deploy proven, effective surveillance technology tailored to the operational requirements along the highest trafficked areas of the Southwest Border.”