The eastern Texas city of Houston is the first destination for most immigrants who make it across the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo regions. Sheriffs Justin Marr of Victoria County and A.J. Louderback of Jackson County are accustomed to having their deputies pull over vehicles on the highway that are crowded full of people being smuggled to Houston, but the transporters are becoming more vicious.
“This is an extremely organized criminal platform, and they're more violent now,” Marr said in an interview. “They’re a lot more aggressive in what they're doing. They don't have any regard for life, liberty, or property at all. They don't care about the people they’re carrying, citizens out on the road, or the deputies trying to apprehend them."
“They don't care if people are flying out of the bed of their truck or if they get run over — push a family off into the road and put them in a ditch. They don't care. Their goal is to get the job done, get paid, turn around, and go do it again. It’s just all about the money,” Marr added. “That's where they're being more aggressive.”
Louderback reported levels of “aggression” and “sophistication” that caught law enforcement off guard.
“They're better, faster. They’re stronger. They're more funded,” said Louderback.
Recently, Victoria County Sheriff’s Department deputies have pulled over vehicles and approached the driver’s window only for the driver to take off or force the people hidden inside to bail out promptly so the driver can get away, according to Marr. While deputies have always seen their fair share of pursuits, Marr’s team is seeing more smugglers attempt to get away. Both sheriffs are increasingly seeing crashes in which smuggling vehicles have fled and crashed into trees, sped through miles of fenced-in ranches, or lost control on the highway.
In Jackson County, the vehicles used to transport people are being stolen faster and more efficiently, Louderback said. Thieves use electronic devices to steal cars and trucks that allow them to do so without physically breaking in. Smuggling organizations will pay, for example, approximately $50,000 for a stolen 2020 Ford F-350, then take out the seats inside except for the driver’s seat and pack it full with people or drugs.