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Inside look: Migrant smuggler leads border agents on wild chase

HILDAGO, Texas (NewsNation) — Encounters at the border have slowed down since Title 42, the pandemic-era policy that lets agents turn away immigrants, was extended, according to border officials.

However, problems still persist, and human smuggling is on the rise. It’s a highly sophisticated cartel-led business that plagues the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Rio Grande Valley is the notorious epicenter.

NewsNation’s Border Report team rode along with border agents, chronicling what they deal with daily in the El Paso area, which ended in a high-speed chase and takedown of a suspected human smuggler.

Rolling along in the South Texas dark, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez and Sgt. Guadalupe Casarez are on the lookout for human smuggling.

The sun came up, and just like that, agents found themselves leading pursuit in a high-speed chase. A silver pickup truck bounded out of the brush, making a break for the north.

A couple of migrants could be seen poking their heads out of the truck’s bed. The driver made a sharp turn down a residential street, then slammed on the brakes, appearing to unload his cargo, but sped off as Olivarez approached.

Moments later, he does it again, that time dropping an elderly woman out into the middle of the road right in front of the cruiser — a dangerous move to buy a few extra seconds as Olivarez moves her out of the way.

The driver speeds off, this time hitting a dead end. The migrants inside try to get out, but not before Olivarez rushes in. The driver bails out the other side and hightails through the nearby brush.

Casarez hops over a barbed wire fence and tries to chase him. The pursuit by foot went on for two to three miles until Border Patrol and DPS tracked him down and took him into custody.

A total of 17 migrants were apprehended, stuffed into a pickup truck that only seats five. Everyone in this chase, including the elderly woman, survived.

“This is every day — not just for us on the state side but also Border Patrol and local law enforcement who work in this area,” said Olivarez.

Scenes of migrants lined up, sleeping and waiting in El Paso and other border towns like Yuma, Arizona show the humanitarian crisis at the border. Families are seeking asylum, desperate for a new future. but that’s not at all what’s happening in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s very dynamic; the thing is they use a lot of scouting. They use radios, they use cell phones,” Olivarez said. “The driver communicating with scouts that are here on the U.S. side, so it’s very coordinated.”

It unabashedly puts profit over human lives. some pay tens of thousands of dollars to be smuggled into the U.S.

“They don’t care about them, their safety. They were packed in this truck, you had some in the bed of this truck and sometimes they turn deadly, and it’s all for profit,” Olivarez said.

Texas DPS said that the smuggler apprehended admitted to receiving about $150 per person to smuggle those migrants. The plan was to move them to a stash house near the Rio Grande Valley. They’d planned to stay there for a couple of days and another smuggler would pick them up and take them north.

All of this comes as Customs and Border Protection announced the changes to its policy for pursuing smugglers and other crime suspects Wednesday, following an extensive review and criticism by immigrant advocates who pointed to cases in which passengers died when drivers fled law enforcement.

It also comes days after a crash in southern New Mexico that killed two people and injured eight others on Jan. 8. Another crash on Jan. 5. followed the shooting of a Border Patrol officer.

The agency said the updated directive provides a framework for weighing the risks of a pursuit against the law enforcement benefit or need. The agency said it reviewed more than two dozen vehicle pursuit policies from various enforcement agencies across the U.S. to come up with the new policy.

“As a professional law enforcement organization, CBP is continually updating policies to reflect best practices, public safety needs, and evolving public expectations,” Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement. “The safety of officers, agents, and the public are paramount as we carry out our mission.”

The CPB’s review began in 2021 and looked at trends and outcomes associated with pursuits. The agency then wrote the new policy over the past year.

The policy will take effect later this year, following training, the agency said. A new branch within the CBP’s Law Enforcement Safety and Compliance Directorate will oversee implementation and training.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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