La Joya ISD Working to Contest Organized Crime Recruitment
LA JOYA – A local school district is working with authorities to fight criminal organizations from influencing their youth.
Students from La Joya Independent School District were being recruited in bulk a couple years ago to smuggle people who were in the country illegally for a few hundred dollars.
“Throughout the Valley, we were having to fight human smuggling organizations and the drug cartel organizations. I guess they thought that teenagers, you know, if they get caught there’s really not going to be any serious consequences,” La Joya ISD Police Chief Raul Gonzalez said. “These kids were being recruited for the sole purpose of getting money, you know, you give a kid $500, $1,000, how can you say no to that.”
Gonzalez said there’s been a slowdown of these cases.
Brenda Anzualda said the dangers are still present. The aunt said she knows ill-intentioned people prey on the youth with tempting offers.
“I haven’t been here in 20 years, like I was saying everything is different. Like there’s more state troopers, more Border Patrol. I see a lot of high speed chases here. It’s just not the same to me, family oriented than it was back then. It’s kind of scarier to me so it’s just. I’m very cautious of my nieces and nephews being everywhere they’re not supposed to be,” she said.
The Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said there’s heavy enforcement for 17-year olds committing crimes. Under Texas law, they will be tried as adults.
“Because of a mistake that they make, and usually them being so young, a lot of times this is the first time they get in trouble so they ruin their futures, and obviously there’s great consequences,” he said.
The consequences range from a first, second or third-degree felony, resulting in a possible long prison sentence.
Gonzalez pointed out that teenagers involved in human smuggling in one city bleeds into other areas of the valley.
“What happens in McAllen affects us. What happens here in La Joya affects people in Edinburg. So we have a very good working relationship with all law enforcement agencies,” he said.
“I want that good feeling back again for not just for me, but for the families around here with these kids, you know. They have a place that they call home. You know like they say don’t mess with Texas, well don’t mess with our kids either,” Anzualda said.
Gonzalez said there has been a decrease within this year in high schoolers being involved in human smuggling, but they are still fighting the drug use.
Gonzalez mentioned La Joya ISD started the first offender program a year ago. It gives students a second chance and a clean slate upon completion of the program.
It involves a 4-hour weekly class for about three months. Parents or guardians are also required to attend.
The course offers students a time to learn about consequences for their actions and teaches them how to avoid making bad decisions.
“We give them another opportunity. They start all new, they go through some classes and we get to talk to them… before the bad guys talk to them,” he said.
Gonzalez said since the string of human smuggling cases with teens in the area, the district created a better line of communication with DPS, Border Patrol, the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement. The department share intel in hopes of better tracking crime in schools.