Officials: 11 dead, 13 injured in crash linked to human smuggling in ‘overpacked van’ near the Mexican border

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ENCINO, TX- According to authorities, an overloaded van carrying about 25 passengers crashed on Wednesday, August 4th, on a remote South Texas highway, killing at least 11 people and injuring more than a dozen others. 

Brooks County Sheriff Urbino Martinez stated that the crash happened shortly after 4 p.m. on U.S. 281 in Encino, about 50 miles north of McAllen. Martinez said the van, which was designed to hold 15 passengers, was top heavy and tipped over when the driver lost control on a curve. 

Martinez added that he believes most of the passengers were migrants. Sgt. Nathan Brandley of the Texas Department of Public Safety put the immediate death toll at 11 with more than a dozen injured, however, it is an active investigation and those numbers could change.

The identities of those in the van are being withheld until relatives could be notified. No information about the van, including where it was registered or who owned it, was immediately released.

Encino is a community of about 140 residents about 2 miles south of the Falfurrias Border Patrol checkpoint. 

This crash comes about five months after 13 people were killed when an SUV packed with 25 migrants collided with a semi-truck in Holtville, California, near the U.S.-Mexico border. The SUV was one of two cars that entered the hole in the fence that day.

California highway patrol found a red Suburban up in flames about 10 miles from the crash site with 19 migrants hiding in the brush nearby. In another deadly crash in March, eight migrants were killed when their vehicle crashed into another truck while being pursued by police in Del Rio, Texas.

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in March statement:

“Cramming dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows an utter disregard for human life. We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.”

According to reports, the Department of Justice recently sued the state of Texas and Governor Greg Abbott for an executive order that directed state troopers to pull over vehicles suspected of carrying unauthorized migrants in federal custody. The order was blocked on August 4th by a federal judge.

A surge in migrant crossings the border illegally has brought about an uptick in the number of crashes involving vehicles jammed with migrants who pay large amounts to be smuggled into the country.

In March, officers identified three people who were killed when a cabin cruiser capsized in rugged waters off the coast of San Diego. The boat was suspected of being used for human smuggling.

U.S. Custom and Border Protection officials stated that the boat was “severely overcrowded” and was being used as a vessel to traffic undocumented migrants into the country. At least 32 people were aboard, including the three people who were killed.

The CBP said preliminary checks by U.S. Border Patrol agents confirmed that all but two people on the boat were “Mexican nationals with no legal status to enter the U.S.” The Mexican Consulate said that as the survivors are released from the hospital, they will be placed into the custody of immigration authorities. The consulate said in a statement:

“The Consulate is in direct contact with the victims and will assist them in their return to Mexico once their processes conclude, giving priority to people, due to their health condition, present a higher state of vulnerability.”

Days before the deadly boat crash, USBP Chief Agent Aaron M. Heitke said that the agency had been seeing an increase in the number of illegal crossings at sea. 

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Released drone footage shows massive number of migrants being held by Border Patrol under Texas bridge

August 2nd, 2021

MISSION, TX– On Sunday, August 1st, troubling drone footage emerged online showing up to 1,000 migrants being held by Border Patrol agents, prompting criticism from Republicans who said the footage underscores the real crisis at the border.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) called it an “absolute catastrophe” as the Biden administration continues to take heat for the escalating migrant crisis.  In a tweet, linking to the footage posted by Bill Melugin of Fox News in Los Angeles, she wrote:

“An absolute catastrophe from Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and House & Senate Democrats. #BidenBorderCrisis.”

Melugin tweeted:

“NEW: This is the largest group of migrants we’ve ever seen being held by border Patrol under Anzalduas Bridge in Mission, TX. Looks like it could be up to 1,000 people. We can only get a look at the area with our drone. There’s a popular Rio Grande crossing area nearby.”

The Biden White House has been under mounting pressure to find a way to respond to the crisis at the border after the president rolled back or reversed many of the immigration policies put in place by former President Donald Trump. 

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) also called on the administration to take action. In a Twitter post that linked to the video of the drone footage, he wrote:

“Our DHS agents & border communities are overwhelmed & must be prioritized. DHS will again encounter over 180,000 immigrants at the southern border during July— adding to the more than 1M immigrants that have arrived at the southern border in FY21. Something as to change!”

Republicans have been critical of the Biden administration over its handling of the border issue. They say the president should be more assertive in getting the problem under control given that there is a global pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced that he would deploy the Texas National Guard to help troopers make arrests at the border. In a letter to Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, he wrote:

“To respond to this disaster and secure the rule of law at our Southern border, more manpower is needed.”

The troopers can stop vehicles “upon reasonable suspicion” and can reroute them to their point of origin or impound them if they are found to be carrying illegal immigrants. Attorney General Merrick Garland sued to block Abbott’s transportation order, calling it “dangerous” and “contrary to federal law.”

Cuellar and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sent a letter to Biden urging him to name former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jen Johnson as border czar. They wrote:

“We write to you with a sense of urgency regarding the escalating situation at our southern border. In doing so, we hope to demonstrate that this bicameral concern is neither partisan nor political.”

The letter also laid out the numbers that have contributed to the crisis. They wrote:

“In June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded 188,829 enforcement encounters at the southwest land border, the highest monthly total in a decade. This represents a 571% increase over the 33,049 encounters recorded by CBP in June 2020. Moreover, in 2021 alone, these numbers have increased by 255% from the 74,019 encounters recorded in December 2020.”

U.S. officials reported this month that they had encountered 55,805 members of families with children in June, up 25 percent from the previous month. That figure still remains far below the high of 88,587 in May 2019.

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Texas governor requests more National Guard troops be deployed to assist officers in arresting illegal immigrants

July 29th, 2021

AUSTIN, TX- On Tuesday, July 27th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott requested additional National Guard troops to deploy to the state’s southern border to help law enforcement officers arrest illegal immigrants breaking state law. 

According to reports, Abbott has declared a disaster in multiple border counties as illegal immigrants continue to flood into the state under President Joe Biden’s lax, nearly-nonexistent immigration enforcement policies.

In a letter to Major Gen. Tracy R. Norris of the Texas Military Department, Abbott wrote:

“To respond to this disaster and secure the rule of law at our southern border, more manpower is needed — in addition to the troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) needs help in arresting those who are violating state law.”

He added:

“I hereby order that the Texas National Guard assist DPS in enforcing Texas law by arresting lawbreakers at the border.”

A staggering 188,829 people have tried to illegally cross the southwester border in just the month of June alone, surpassing the record of 180,641 who tried to make their way into the United States in May.

It is unclear how many troopers will be deployed to the southern border. Local officials in some Texas counties said that the increase in illegal immigrants trying to enter the country has stretched their scarce resources even thinner.

The also said that a presence of drug and human smugglers has overwhelmed their small law enforcement agencies. Abbott has since sent DPS troopers to border towns experiencing an increase in illegal immigrant crossings and has pledged to deliver more help.

In June, Abbott told DPS to start arresting illegal border crossers on state charges. The Briscoe Unit prison in Dilley has reportedly been converted into a jail to hold illegal immigrants. 

As of Monday, July 26th, 30 people were being held at the facility and all had been arrested on charges of suspicion of criminal trespass. During a FOX interview, Abbott said:

“When people start learning about this, they’re going to stop coming across the Texas border because they’re not getting the red-carpet treatment that they’ve been getting from the Biden administration.”

Abbott has also pledged to build a state-funded border wall to slow down migration through Texas’ southern border. Abbott’s latest order comes as the Biden administration tackles a surge in migration and illegal contraband at the border.

In June statement, Abbott said:

“President Biden’s open-border policies have paved the way for dangerous gangs and cartels, human traffickers, and deadly drugs like fentanyl to pour into our communities.”

At a security briefing at the Texas Statehouse in Austin, sheriffs from local communities expressed their need for more manpower, more jail space, and more judges. Abbott said in a statement:

“People think that this is a border-related issue and it is, but this is also an issue that affects counties across the entire state of Texas.”

On Wednesday, July 28th, Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, of Laredo, urged Biden and the White House to take substantive immediate action to curb the thousands of illegal immigrants flooding across from Mexico, week after week.

In a statement, Cuellar said:

“Last week in the lower Rio Grande Valley, law enforcement had over 20,000 encounters.”

Reportedly, DHS announced that as of July 31st, they would be considering ending Title 42 enforcement, which was a policy invoked by President Trump that allows for the expulsion of foreign nationals from places where there is a risk of communicable disease. Cuellar said:

“I told the White House that they have, they’re deporting people under Title 42. I support Title 42 especially right now. They need to publicize and show images of people being deported because I ask you, Charles, have you seen one single picture of somebody being deported? No. I haven’t see one. I see people coming in, but we’re not showing people being deported”

He added:

“These numbers are not stopping and with all due respect to the administration, they need to put a pause on this now for the sake of our border communities.”
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Report: 1100 Venezuelans cross into west Texas border town within 2 weeks, will most likely be released into U.S.

May 1st, 2021

DEL RIO, TX – As the crisis at the southern border grows, a law enforcement source disclosed to the media that more than 100 Venezuelan nationals have illegally entered the United States south of Del Rio on Wednesday morning.

The group of mostly family units captured by the Border Patrol add to the more than 1,100 that have been apprehended in the area since April 16.

The new arrivals have been transported to nearby Border Patrol stations for processing.

The flow of immigrants had continued in the area as the Biden administration struggles to control the flood of immigrants answering President Biden’s call for more lenient immigration policies than his predecessor, President Donald Trump, offered.

Texas saw another group of 106 Venezuelans enter the same area on Tuesday, as the flow seems to continue daily. The influx has forced the government to open a soft-sided facility within the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector to help handle the flood of immigrants.

Del Rio has had to deal with a larger than normal amount of immigrants arriving from regions outside the usual Central American countries. Ciudad Acuna, just across the border from Del Rio, offers a safer place to cross from Mexico for Haitians, Cubans, and Central Africans.

Mexican Drug Cartel violence has subsided in Ciudad Acuna compared to other parts of Mexico, and offers an attractive crossing location for these immigrants. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated Venezuela as a country warranting immigrants special status temporarily. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, until September 2022.

The protected status allows Venezuelan nationals inside the US to file for TPS, as long as they meet eligibility requirements.

The designation was ordered by the Biden administration because of extraordinary conditions inside Venezuela which makes returning immigrants unsafe.

Secretary Mayorkas announced the TPS in March saying:

“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens.

“It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”

The White House stressed that immigrants should not believe that the border is wide open for Venezuelans:

“Only individuals who can demonstrate continuous residence in the United States as of March 8, 2021 are eligible for TPS under Venezuela’s designation. 

“For their own health and safety, individuals should not believe smugglers or others claiming the border is now open. Due to the pandemic, travel and admission restrictions at the border remain in place.”

Despite the administration’s warning, Venezuelans and others have been crossing into the US illegally in hopes of receiving leniency.

 The new group of Venezuelans entering at Del Rio will likely be processed and released into the US to pursue asylum claims despite not qualifying for TPS. 

Border crossing into Del Rio by non-Mexicans is nothing new. It is not uncommon for third-country nationals from outside Mexico to be provided travel documents requiring them to depart Mexico within a set time frame. These documents provide for free travel through Mexico.

In January, Del Rio Sector Border Patrol agents pulled the body of a pregnant Haitian migrant from the Rio Grande. The woman died crossing the border river in freezing temperatures.

Del Rio Station agents received information from Mexican authorities on January 8 about a possible drowning in the Rio Grande. Agents responded to the area and found the body of a female migrant. Officials report the woman, a 33-year-old Haitian migrant, was pregnant.

The woman’s husband, who also tried to swim across the river, drowned and was recovered by Mexican authorities.

This tragic example is all too common in the Del Rio region. Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2021 on October 1, 2020, Del Rio Sector agents have recovered the bodies of 18 migrants who died while crossing or shortly after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas.

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Democrats push to end ICE partnerships with local police as illegal immigration crisis explodes in America

April 27, 2021

 

WASHINGTON, DC – Democratic legislators are seeking to end a federal program that allows local police to seamlessly transfer criminal illegal aliens over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for arrest and deportation.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) have sent a letter to Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, asking him to terminate the agency’s 287(g) agreements with local law enforcement agencies.

The 287(g) agreements allow local law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements with ICE allowing local departments to identify illegal aliens and hand them over to ICE for processing and eventual deportation.

ICE describes the 287(g) program as “mutually beneficial”:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 287(g) Program enhances the safety and security of communities by creating partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and remove aliens who are amenable to removal from the United States.

The 287(g) Program continues to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from its partners. The mutually beneficial agreements allow state and local officers to act as a force multiplier in the identification, arrest, and service of warrants and detainers of incarcerated foreign-born individuals with criminal charges or convictions.”

Some of the criminal illegal aliens arrested by local police and subsequently turned over to ICE agents included those charged with drug trafficking, child rape, domestic violence, carrying a firearm without a license, aggravated assault, and felony embezzlement.

Despite the success and popularity of the program with law enforcement agencies, the Democratic lawmakers wrote to Mayorkas telling him that he must terminate the agreements:

“We write to you to urge you to immediately terminate all existing 287(g) agreements. These agreements undermine public safety and result in the racial profiling and harassment of immigrant communities.

“In order for our immigration system to properly represent our American values, it is paramount that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implement critical changes in how it seeks to enforce federal immigration law.”

Democratic lawmakers threatened that if the Department of Homeland Security does not terminate the agreements unilaterally, they will introduce the PROTECT Immigration Act in Congress to repeal Section 287(g):

“Today, on April XX, 2021m (sic), we introduced the PROTECT Immigration Act, which would repeal Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act once and for all. While it will take congressional action to repeal this provision of federal law, we strongly encourage DHS to terminate all existing 287(g) agreements immediately.

“This would represent a critical step in disentangling federal immigration enforcement from state and local law enforcement and improve the enforcement of our nation’s federal immigration laws.”

In a statement to NBC News, Sen. Booker argued that immigration enforcement should not be the responsibility of local and state law enforcement:

“Immigration enforcement should not be delegated to state and local police departments that are not equipped to enforce immigration laws — it is the job of the federal government.

“These agreements undermine public safety and result in the racial profiling and harassment of members of the immigrant community.”

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and  Jeff Merkley (D-OR) are co-sponsors of the bicameral bill.

The House version of the legislation will be introduced by Rep. Michael Quigley (D-IL) and co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal ( D-WA).

President Biden, who administration is struggling to control an immigration crisis at the southern border, has not addressed the Democrats’ call for termination of Section 287(g) agreements.

In February, a group of 60 House Democrats urged the President to end programs at the Department of Homeland Security that allowed for state and local police to assist in immigration enforcement.

The lawmakers also asked the Biden administration to end a program started by the George W. Bush administration that gave federal agents access to the fingerprints of individuals booked into jail by local and state authorities.

The program, known as Secure Communities, was ended by former President Barack Obama in 2014 but restarted by Trump via a 2017 executive order.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have been critical of the administration’s handling, or failure to handle, the immigration crisis.

A group of 12 Republican Senators led by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) urged the Biden administration to reconsider its immigration agenda in light of the rapidly expanding border crisis. 

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