Criminal JusticeFederalImmigration & BorderIssuesLocal NewsIllegal Immigration Is Making Texas Vulnerable to Violence by Mexican Drug Cartels

Retired ICE Special Agent Victor Avila says illegal aliens are “exploiting these new policies under the Biden administration.”
June 21, 2021
The illegal immigration disaster in Texas’ border patrol sectors is as bad as it has been all year, with more than 118,000 enforcement encounters with illegal aliens in May, according to statistics released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that are current as of June 3.

That includes a reported 30,066 family unit apprehensions, 10,756 unaccompanied children taken into custody, and 77,214 single adults arrested in Texas sectors.

The figures reflect a risk of criminal activity and violence that local authorities are unable to solve without additional federal assistance.

There have been a total of almost 1.1 million enforcement actions with illegal aliens Fiscal Year-to-date in the southwestern region of the U.S., and CBP noted that there are often multiple enforcement encounters with the same individual.

“The large number of expulsions during the pandemic has contributed to a larger-than-usual number of noncitizens making multiple border crossing attempts, and means total encounters somewhat overstate the number of unique individuals arriving at the border,” the agency wrote in a press release.

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“[38 percent] of encounters in May 2021 were individuals who had at least one prior encounter in the previous 12 months, compared to an average one-year re-encounter rate of 15 percent for Fiscal Years 2014-2019.”

The most notable change in Texas sectors was a 58 percent increase in the number of family unit apprehensions in the Del Rio border patrol sector. There were at least 6,975 family unit apprehensions in May as opposed to a reported 4,416 in April.

On the other hand, the most dramatic decrease was a 33 percent drop in the number of family unit apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley. In that sector, CBP reported 20,529 family unit apprehensions in May while the reported figure in April was 30,461.

Agent Under Fire

The Texan spoke with retired Supervisory Special Agent Victor Avila, who worked in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Avila is uniquely familiar with the brutality of Mexican drug cartels.

As Avila recounts in his work, Agent Under Fire, on February 15, 2011, the ICE Office of the Attaché in Mexico City sent him and Special Agent Jaime Zapata on an assignment to travel from Mexico City to a location near Matehuala, Mexico. The purpose of the assignment was to pick up equipment from officials working in the ICE-HSI office in Monterrey, Mexico.

Avila’s and Zapata’s superiors instructed them to travel along Highway 57, a route known at the time by the U.S. federal government to be fraught with the risk of ambushes by criminal cartels.

As Avila and Zapata were returning to Mexico City, the Los Zetas drug cartel ambushed them in their armored vehicle, which had mechanical problems that included a faulty panic button. The cartel murdered Zapata in a hail of gunfire and Avila, though he survived, suffered serious injuries from the attack.

Avila required years of treatment for the physical trauma he sustained in addition to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — with little financial help from the agency that had sent him on the mission in the first place. An investigation by ICE that was accepted by U.S. Special Counsel Henry Kerner later found “managerial complacency” on the part of Avila’s and Zapata’s superiors.

In a letter to former President Trump on April 22, 2020, Kerner indicated that investigators did not agree with all of Avila’s allegations, but the investigation revealed that the ICE Office of the Attaché in Mexico City had made several errors leading up to the tragedy.

These errors included failing to coordinate adequate backup for Avila and Zapata and failing to “brief and prepare” them for the assignment. Investigators also confirmed a “known lack of diligence with regard to the maintenance of the ICE armored vehicles,” which included broken tracking equipment.

‘No Regard for Human Life Whatsoever’

Avila recently toured the southern border, including the Rio Grande Valley and the Del Rio area. While there, he had the opportunity to interview CBP agents, whose ability to respond to illegal immigration has been stretched by the mere volume of illegal crossings.

Avila emphasized that CBP agents are not intended to be caretakers or “medical assistants,” and Avila observed that they are preoccupied with humanitarian issues and distracted from their core function as law enforcement officials. The inability of CBP to fully secure the border has created a set of circumstances that are conducive to cartel activity.

“The open border policy under this administration has brought people from all over the world, we’re not just talking about Mexico and Central Americans,” Avila told The Texan. “In Del Rio, where I was just last week, I interviewed people from Uganda, the Congo, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Chile — these are individuals who are coming from these countries.”

Referencing incidents such as when CBP apprehended more than 80 illegal aliens who had hundreds of pounds of narcotics with them, Avila noted that drug smuggling and human smuggling are becoming increasingly linked.

Highlighting the extreme brutality of drug cartels, such as the Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel, Avila said the criminal syndicates have “no regard for human life whatsoever.”

Avila said many illegal aliens who have advanced degrees and money to set up their new lives will “flat out tell you” that the reason they came here is because of the change in leadership. The special agent indicated some of them are coming here to seek political change in the U.S.

“There are absolutely no checks whatsoever of these individuals, there’s no vetting of these individuals coming in, and they have money. They have money to buy airline tickets, they have money to buy clothing, they have money to pay the cartels, they have money to set themselves up anywhere in our country and they’re doing it,” Avila warned.

‘They’ll Get Shot at From the Mexican Side’

In the Del Rio sector, where there were about 28,000 enforcement encounters with illegal aliens last month, Avila said residents fear for their safety.

“And I know Del Rio well because I used to work there back in ‘99 when I worked in San Antonio, I used to cover Val Verde County. [It was] such a good peaceful town, and they always dealt with illegal immigration here and there, but[…]they’re the first ones to tell you they’ve never seen this before in their communities,” Avila said.

“[T]hey can’t drop off their child at the bus stop like they used to, because you have four illegal aliens from Central America, four men, standing there and they can’t drop off their 11-year-old daughter, because they don’t feel safe.”

Avila is particularly concerned about human smuggling during a time when it is so easy to remain in the U.S. even after being taken into custody.

“And that is the concerning part, because if they want to come in undetected it’s because they do not want to be fingerprinted, they do not want to be identified, and that’s because they have criminal histories,” Avila explained.

“A lot of individuals that have been in our country, that have been convicted of crimes, especially sex offenders, have been convicted of a crime, serviced, and deported, and guess what? They’re coming right back.”

Avila pointed to the El Paso sector as an example of a particularly dangerous area where individuals are evading the detection of CBP officers.

“In El Paso, it’s a whole different dynamic. It’s all cartel land over there. Border patrol can’t even go to certain parts of the mountain or they’ll get shot at from the Mexican side,” Avila said.

In fact, there is a cartel war occurring between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG.

“There’s always been cartel activity, but there was not, ‘Oh, this is Zetas land or this is Cartel Jalisco land or this is Sinaloa territory.’ No, it’s always been kind of a neutral few cartel members here and there,” Avila explained. “Well now, because of the huge increase of these individuals coming through, now the cartels are fighting for that area to take over and of course get the proceeds.”

Hidalgo County

Democrat Ricardo Rodriguez Jr., who serves as the criminal district attorney for Hidalgo County, expressed his concern in a call with The Texan about stretched law enforcement resources in his jurisdiction.

“It just seems that the federal, the federal law enforcement, doesn’t have the proper boots on the ground, to be able to combat this influx of immigration or people crossing illegally,” Rodriguez said, calling the border crisis a “big burden” on law enforcement at all levels of government.

Similar to Avila’s concerns, Rodriguez noted that border patrol authorities are unable to “prioritize” enforcement because they are having to respond to humanitarian issues.

Rodriguez characterized the crisis as a “perfect opportunity” for criminal organizations to exploit human beings and take advantage of the inability of law enforcement to clamp down on illegal crossings.

The district attorney explained that human smuggling is a greater problem in Hidalgo County than human trafficking, noting that Hidalgo is more of a “gateway” for illegal aliens.

When asked whether criminal charges filed by his office might make a difference, he did not have high hopes, but indicated that he is working with the feds to help keep local residents safe.

“We are helping and participating with the federal government in the state level and helping them prosecute some of these cases. Criminally wise[…]I don’t see that it’s putting a dent yet on the state level, on the prosecution side,” Rodriguez said.

Underscoring the unique stressors of the current illegal immigration disaster, Rodriguez communicated that his focus is protecting people in Hidalgo County.

“As a [district attorney] and a prosecutor that works hand-in-hand with law enforcement, at this point we’re just trying to keep everyone as safe as possible, keep our border secured, like we’ve always been doing,” Rodriguez said.

“But obviously, there’s more work now, and there’s more of a burden on a whole lot of people down here because of what’s going on.”

FBI Director

Avila carefully distinguished between those who are entering Texas with malicious intent and the families and individuals who are seeking a better quality of life.

Of course, while illegal immigration is leaving Texas open to criminal activity by drug cartels, many illegal immigrants are seeking residency in the U.S. for economic reasons rather than criminal ones.

In addition, the federal government continues to pursue individuals who perpetrate crimes against the U.S.

American authorities recently captured Emma Aispuro, who is the wife of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Guzmán was regarded as one of the most powerful drug lords in the world before the U.S. captured and imprisoned him. Aispuro pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, distributing narcotics, and doing business with drug traffickers.

However, this does not diminish the reality that Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), recently pointed out in a hearing of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Responding to questions from Rep. Tim McClintock (R-CA-4), Wray warned, “There is no question that the cartel activity on the other side of the border is spilling over in all sorts of ways.”


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."