(The Center Square) – Despite Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke’s claim that “El Paso is one of the safest cities in America,” the FBI warns that the Texas border city is a major human smuggling and kidnapping destination.
Federal agents continue arresting human smugglers and uncovering stash houses of smuggled people.
El Paso, located across the Rio Grande River from Ciudad Juárez, is just miles from where rival gangs and cartels are fighting for control of a multi-billion-dollar human and drug smuggling enterprise.
In El Paso, Texas Department of Public Safety officers also are actively thwarting criminal activity through the state’s border security initiative, Operation Lone Star, that Gov. Greg Abbott launched last March. O’Rourke has said he’d defund the operation.
Through OLS, DPS officers recently rescued an 18-month-old baby who’d been kidnapped and held for ransom in El Paso. A woman claiming to be the baby’s mother living in St. Petersburg, Florida, had called the FBI saying her baby was being held for ransom in El Paso.
A DPS state trooper working through OLS pulled over 45-year-old U.S. citizen and El Paso resident Jenna Roark, who was accompanied by a 15-year-old teenager. They were allegedly smuggling illegal foreign nationals, including an unidentified 18-month-old boy. The baby was reportedly in poor health and taken to the hospital, then released to child protective services.
Both Roark and the teen were arrested and face charges of smuggling of persons and aggravated kidnapping, authorities say.
DPS West Texas Regional Director Jose Sanchez said in a statement that “DPS Troopers and CID Agents are specially trained in the Interdiction for the Protection of Children, which gives them the skills to take action in these situations and save children from further harm.”
Jeffery R. Downey, FBI El Paso Special Agent in Charge, said, “working with our partners at the Texas Department of Public Safety, we were able to share intelligence about the kidnapping for ransom and locate the child.”
On a nearly daily basis, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso announces enforcement actions taken against violent offenders.
On Oct.2, CBP officers working at the Ysleta border crossing encountered a 68-year-old man and lawful permanent resident arriving from Mexico who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest from the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.
Agents at the Bridge of the Americas port of entry also recently apprehended a 35-year-old man and U.S. citizen with an outstanding warrant for sexual offense – soliciting a minor via computer— with an active warrant from Parkersburg Police Department, Parkersburg, West Virginia.
The men were arrested by CBP and turned over to local authorities pending extradition to the originating agency.
Their arrests were one of 24 NCIC fugitive apprehensions made by CBP officers within one week, CBP-Laredo reports. Those taken into custody were sought for a variety of charges, including assault and dangerous drugs.
Also, over a period of a week, CBP agents disrupted 18 human smuggling schemes, arrested two people with extensive criminal records and gang affiliation, uncovered one stash house, and rescued two injured illegal foreign nationals, CBP El Paso reports.
In recent days, the El Paso Sector has reported an average of approximately 1,500 daily encounters of citizens mostly from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia entering Texas and the U.S. illegally through Mexico.
CBP agents also continue to confiscate record amounts of drugs in the El Paso Sector.
In one encounter at the Paso Del Norte international border crossing in downtown El Paso, agents seized 17.95 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $190,000 hidden inside of a vehicle of a Mexican citizen attempting to enter Texas.
In another instance at the same border crossing, agents intercepted a mixed load of 0.3 pounds of fentanyl and 1.27 pounds of methamphetamine from a 35-year-old man and U.S. citizen who had hidden the drugs in multiple bundles in his vehicle. In another, they encountered an 18-year-old man and U.S. citizen who tried to bring in 0.88 pounds of fentanyl and 1.1 pounds of methamphetamine strapped to his inner thighs.
Agents at the Ysleta border crossing recently seized nine pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $100,000 hidden inside of a vehicle driven by 24-year-old man and U.S. citizen.
At the Bridge of the Americas border crossing, agents apprehended an 18-year-old man and U.S. citizen who had strapped 0.45 pounds of fentanyl to his groin area. In another encounter at the same border crossing, agents intercepted 5.29 pounds of cocaine from a 34-year-old man and U.S. citizen who’d hidden the drugs in multiple bundles in his vehicle. In yet another instance, they encountered a 29-year-old man and U.S. citizen who tried to bring in 0.12 pounds of fentanyl concealed around his groin area.
The apprehended individuals were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents or state and local authorities for prosecution.
In addition to federal and state law enforcement efforts fighting crime in El Paso, the El Paso Police Department reported earlier this year that auto thefts are up 48%, assaults are up 15%, burglaries (home, vehicle, building) are down 34%, while murders and robberies remain steady, the El Paso Times reported.
According to Crimegrade.org, El Paso has a D- overall crime grade; a violent crime grade of a D+; property crime grade of a D-; and other crime a D-.