The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) says human smuggling attempts by aircraft are becoming more common in the border state.
Over the last 30 days, Texas DPS has stopped three human smuggling attempts via plane at different airports in the same area of the Rio Grande Valley, according to Texas Highway Patrol Staff Lieutenant Christopher Olivarez.
“We’re seeing an increase,” Olivarez said of human smuggling attempts by plane. “It’s started to become more common. But … these are small, private airports. They’re not using the larger airports where there’s TSA. These are the smaller airports where you don’t have the security measures in place for private planes. It’s kind of hard to … do surveillance at every single airport.”
The reasoning behind the increase in plane smuggling attempts is two-fold.
“There’s more people coming in, and the more people you have coming in, of course, they want to find more ways to make it into the interior,” Olivarez said. “But what’s unique is…you have to understand the different between the people who are being smuggled on planes — those are people who have not been processed. Those are people who are trying to avoid detection.”
Border agents refer to these individuals as “gotaways,” or illegal immigrants who have not been formally released and have instead evaded Border Patrol.
In July, officials estimated to Fox News that more than 500,000 gotaways were known to have slipped past agents at that time in FY22 but were detected by cameras or other sensors. There have been about 55,000 getaways each month this fiscal year.
On Sunday, DPS disrupted a human smuggling attempt by plane at the Mid Valley Airport at approximately 11 a.m. that led to the arrests of seven individuals, including six illegal immigrants and one female U.S. citizen. One of the illegal immigrants was a deported felon from Mexico who was wanted out of Wisconsin in a child sexual assault case.
Agents were monitoring suspicious activity at the airport after receiving a tip, Olivarez explained.
Texas DPS stopped two other human smuggling attempts by plane on Aug. 31, which involved 12 illegal immigrants, and on Sept. 23, which involved 19 illegal immigrants, according to the DPS officer.
A number of different criminal smuggling organizations with different trafficking “methods” will rent charter planes to transport illegal immigrants from the Rio Grande Valley to other areas of Texas — typically Houston, which Olivarez described as a human trafficking “hub.” From Houtson, traffickers will transport immigrants elsewhere in or outside the state of Texas.
Charter pilots are required to match the names of passengers with the list of names on a manifest, but they are not required to check a passanger’s citizenship status, according to the officer.
“A lot of times, they don’t even know what’s going on,” he said of the charter plane pilots. “They’re just told, ‘Okay, I’m going to charter this plane. We’re going to pick up this many passengers from this airport, and we’re going to take them to this airport.’ That’s it.”
Retired Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent and Texas congressional candidate Frank Lopez Jr. also questioned the kinds of people involved in chartering private planes to enter the country.
“Air travel certainly has played a role in this,” Lopez said of the influx of migrants illegally crossing the U.S. border. ” … My question would be: Who can afford a private [plane]? Even just a propeller. I’ve seen the pictures of the aircraft that are being used. So, who can afford that? … Who is involved with this? And the people that are being smuggled — are these your run-of-the-mill illegal aliens? Or is there something special about them? Is there something that that makes them a higher value package, per se?”
He continued: “These are people who are not wanting to walk up to a National Guardsman, say, ‘Here I am,'” which tells him that those people chartering plans “either have money, or they’re going to owe a lot of money.”
The total number of migrants that have crossed the southern border since President Biden took office has surpassed 2 million.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.