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DPS troopers at the border: ‘It’s our goal to catch the smugglers’

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As part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security mission, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers are actively seeking to catch human smugglers.

The Center Square met with one trooper who relocated to the border and covers an area stretching from Del Rio to Eagle Pass. Trooper Jaclyn Gooding, who just celebrated five years with DPS, said troopers assigned to highway patrol typically make traffic stops, respond to car crashes, and arrest intoxicated drivers statewide, but at the border, criminal activity is amplified by human smuggling.

“We still do all those things, now there is this criminal element that’s so prevalent in our area,” she said. That includes high-speed chases involving human smuggling where the driver “has no regard for human life.”

Smugglers often reach over 100 miles an hour, drive through residential areas, crash through fences and private property, crash into other vehicles, and only stop after their vehicle can’t make it any further, The Center Square has reported. Drivers, and those they’re smuggling, often jump out of the vehicle and run to evade arrest, known as “bail outs.”

“Our goal is to catch the smugglers,” Gooding, from northeast Texas, told The Center Square in an exclusive interview. “This is our backyard. It is personal to us,” she said because the border crisis impacts everyone.

“It’s our neighbors, it’s our neighborhoods, it’s our cities, it’s our towns that are being affected by all of this. It’s our ranchers and our community’s property that’s being damaged. It is our goal to protect everyone.”

Gooding, who joined DPS later in life, signed up with the goal of heading straight into danger at the Texas-Mexico border. Now, she takes pride in training other new recruits to identify and catch smugglers.

“I’ve personally made a difference in some very specific situations in ways that I’m very proud of,” she said, “stopping some people that were really bad who have complete disregard for human life.” She and others have helped rescue illegal foreign nationals being smuggled or people that smugglers “nearly killed in a car crash and had no remorse for just because of money.”

Gooding reiterated what others in law enforcement have told The Center Square: criminal activity “is about money.” Those being smuggled “are not people to criminal organizations,” she said, but commodities. Smuggling funds gangs and Mexican cartels, she said. “They’re making the money off of these events … and whatever they can make money off of,” including stolen vehicles, drugs, stolen guns, and money laundering. “It’s everything that a gang or a cartel can make money off of and they’re going to push it through all at the same time. It’s not even just human smuggling that we’re trying to put a stop to. It’s any of those organized crime efforts in general.

“If you asked any trooper [that’s at the border], have they made an arrest based off of OLS operations that they probably wouldn’t have arrested otherwise? Every one of them is going to say, ‘yes.’ Have you gotten a stolen vehicle? Yes. Have you gotten drugs or guns that you probably wouldn’t have seen if you weren’t here at the border? Yeah, you do on a daily basis.”

In Webb County, a few hours east of Gooding’s area, troopers recently stopped alleged human smuggling events, representing a typical border-related stop. In one incident, they engaged in a high-speed pursuit that ended up in a residential neighborhood. The driver, a Laredo resident, eventually stopped and was arrested. Hiding inside the vehicle were six Mexican nationals who reportedly entered the country illegally. They were apprehended and held on the front lawn of a local residence before being referred to Border Patrol. The driver was charged with evading arrest and smuggling of persons.

In another high-speed pursuit on a local road in Webb County, an alleged human smuggler wove in and out of traffic and crashed into a FedEx truck, causing the truck to flip over. The driver continued, eventually stopping in a commercial area after the car gave out. The driver ran and was pursued on foot by the trooper. The alleged smuggler, also from Laredo, was arrested and charged with evading arrest and smuggling of persons.

Inside the crashed vehicle were seven Mexican nationals who also reportedly illegally entered the country and were referred to Border Patrol.

These smuggling events are counted in the more than 500,000 illegal foreign nationals apprehended, more than 39,500 criminal arrests made, including more than 35,600 felony charges, by state and local law enforcement, since Abbott launched OLS in March 2021.

Gooding says their efforts “are paying off” because OLS officers are “not only protecting Texas but protecting our country.”