Posted: Jan 26, 2012 5:45 PM
Updated: Jan 26, 2012 7:46 PM
Drug smugglers are finding it harder to save their loads. Border Patrol says it's because they've cut off prime smuggling routes back to the river. Smugglers had been turning roads into runways, a last resort to save their cargo.
"What we had started seeing were these splashdowns where the smugglers would drive the vehicle into the river," says Border Patrol agent Rosie Huey.
Splashdowns are a sophisticated smuggling strategy.
"There are usually crews from the Mexican side waiting to get the narcotics back into Mexico," says Huey. "It was one of their favorite tactics."
Game warden Will Plumas says that's not true anymore.
"I haven't seen any in the last few months," says Plumas.
The roads to the river are blocked.
"The gates have helped quite a bit," says Plumas.
The only barricades that used to block the straight paths to the river were old, flimsy, thin gates that were not that hard to break through. We even found what's left of this old lock that was broken through. But the new gates are made of thick steel.
"It would be nearly impossible to ram one of those gates and to get into one of the areas with one of those gates there," says Plumas.
Border Patrol started installing the thick steel barricades two years ago. They worked with farmers and game wardens to block 28 roads.
"It was in areas where we had seen these splashdowns as well as in areas where they could potentially go in for a splashdown," says Plumas.
Similar gates were installed at Anzalduas Park. Constables close them when high-speed chases start in Mission. It's designed to keep smugglers out of the park. The results are promising. The number of splashdowns in the McAllen area dropped by a third last year.
"I think it's keeping them from getting back to the water," says Plumas.
Smugglers finding a way into the water will soon face another set of challenges. New armored DPS boats will patrol the river. One of the new marine unit's goals is to catch smugglers splashing down.
The caliche roads running from the river to Military Road are still used for trafficking. Signs of the journey are scattered in the brush. The barricades and boats are turning these smuggling runways into walking trails for illegals.