Alleged Human Smugglers Cross South, North Padre Islands to Get Around Checkpoint
NEAR SOUTH PADRE ISLAND – Beach Access 6 on South Padre Island is part of the suspected path alleged human smugglers used in an attempt to go undetected.
According to federal court documents, seven people in the U.S. illegally were dropped-off on the beaches of South Padre Island and were instructed to cross the Port Mansfield Channel at night on three inflatable rafts.
Court documents state they walked through the dunes during the day and along the shoreline at night.
It states they would then be picked up on mile marker 45, along the beaches of the Padre Island National Shoreline.
South Padre Island U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Kurt Mees said the dark and desolate terrain, along with the cold water, can be unforgiving.
"When people enter the water like that, the water temperatures are colder and that can induce hyperthermia," he said. "So, basically it can ultimately lead to death."
Court documents also allege a Brownsville police officer, Valerie Rivas, was involved in the plot.
It states one of the men in the country illegally was Rivas' boyfriend trying to make it to Victoria, Texas.
He was to call when he made it to his final destination, court documents state.
When that call never came, Rivas left Brownsville and went looking for him on the beaches of North Padre Island.
Lt. Mees said the U.S. Coast Guard was called to assist as authorities began to figure out the elaborate human smuggling attempt.
"We got a report of a kayak that was on the north side of the jetties there at Port Mansfield, so the Coast Guard treated it as a search and rescue case initially," he explained.
During their search, the U.S. Coast Guard found Rivas and one of the people in the country illegally in the sand dunes trying to avoid being found by authorities.
Border Patrol agents apprehended them.
Several others, including Rivas' boyfriend, had already been apprehended by authorities.
Lt. Mees said it's not typical to see human smuggling attempts through South Padre Island, but it is one of the things they are looking out for throughout the 3,500 square-miles they patrol.
"South Padre Island is still a safe area," he said. "We’re doing our best efforts to keep the area and the residents in the area safe."
Rivas was off-duty when she went in search of her boyfriend and got arrested.
A Brownsville Police Department spokesman confirms Rivas has been with the department since July 2016 and is on administrative leave with pay, pending this investigation.
They declined to comment further.
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