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Texas troopers apprehend human smugglers, gang members

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Texas Department of Public Safety troopers continue to apprehend human smugglers and gang members and find dozens of people being held in stash houses at the border.

Troopers foiled human smuggling events in Webb County this past week.

On Tuesday, two alleged human smugglers were driving on I-35, which runs north and south from the border town of Laredo to San Antonio, roughly a two- to three-hour drive. Troopers stopped both vehicles and those inside attempted to run away, running across the highway, attempting to evade arrest. Among them was an alleged smuggler, Daniel Pena, from Zapata, Texas.

Troopers then looked inside his pickup truck and found 15 Mexican nationals hiding in the rear cab and inside toolboxes.

The other alleged smuggler was Mario Gutierrez Zambrano, a Mexican national illegally in the United States. Both he and Pena were arrested and charged with smuggling of persons and evading arrest. All 15 Mexicans were handed over to Border Patrol.

Smugglers also drive north on Highway 59 from Laredo to Houston, roughly a five-hour drive, and are often apprehended by an Operation Lone Star task force headed by Goliad Sheriff Roy Boyd, The Center Square has reported. One recent smuggling event was foiled in Roma after OLS task force investigators apprehended alleged human smugglers several hours north of the border.

Also in Webb County, DPS special agents and troopers found 29 illegal foreign nationals being held in a stash house. They asked them for their phones and identification, with some appearing to say they didn’t have any. The men and women were separated and held in different rooms of the house.

In total, they included 21 men and eight women who were citizens of Honduras and Mexico.

One of the men was identified as a member of the Tango Blast Gang. Everyone in the stash house was referred to Border Patrol.

Last year, the Texas legislature enhanced border security measures during the regular legislative session and in several special sessions. In the third special session, they passed bills that increased the penalties for human smuggling and operating stash houses, The Center Square reported.

When signing the bills into law, Gov. Greg Abbott said the situation “has gotten out of control” in Texas. In 2017, there were 370 human smuggling arrests in Texas. By 2023, they increased to 7,700, a more than 2,000% increase. The new law creates a mandatory 10-year minimum prison sentence for smuggling and a five-year mandatory prison sentence for operating a stash house.

The new border security laws also enable law enforcement officers to continue their efforts through Abbott’s border security mission, Operation Lone Star. Since he launched OLS in April 2021, they’ve arrested more than 511,600 illegal foreign nationals. They’ve also made more than 43,100 criminal arrests, with more than 38,000 felony charges reported.