SPECIAL REPORT | WDRB's Valerie Chinn visits Mexican border where drugs, illegal immigrants and human smugglers converge
WDRB News takes you to the Texas-Mexican border to see first-hand what the government is doing to curtail illegal immigration.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The point where illegal drugs and immigrants make their way into the country and on to Kentucky is a hot area for illegal crossings.
About 1,400 miles southwest of Louisville, WDRB News traveled to the Texas-Mexico border for three days, where Border Patrol confiscated about 300 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value is $240,000.
Air and Marine Operations worked with Border Patrol staging in different areas as the drug smugglers dropped the packages. Border Patrol agents said they saw six men, each carrying a bundle of drugs. Two men were arrested, and the others jumped into the river to swim back to Mexico, knowing agents wouldn't chase them in the water.
Drug seizures like this are common in the area. The Rio Grande is just about a few hundred feet wide, which makes it easy for people to raft or swim across into America. There are miles and miles of fields, brush and sandy conditions. Pilots spend hours assisting ground crews to find illegal immigrants hiding in the rough terrain.
At the Anzalduas Dam, the water is shallow enough that people just walk across the sandbar. There are water bottles, shoes and other clothing items that people left behind, scattered all over the area.
"You see that trail that runs off? That's a people trail. That's pretty fresh there," said Clint Thompson, an Air and Marine Operations Pilot. "We've got two runners."
The chopper helps spot the runners, looking for bright colors or any movement in the brush.
On the water, agents said their presence with guns is more of a deterrent as they patrol the river.
"The violence has escalated a little bit, especially in last couple of months," said Abel Flores, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. "I think with change in the policies, we're being a little more effective than we were. They are getting a little more aggravated."
Most people don't cross the border alone. They pay thousands for help.
"They have scouts," Border Patrol Agent Isaac Villegas said. "They have mules, people looking out over there, and that's not going to stop us from doing our job."
One undocumented immigrant said it took him eight days to get to the border from Mexico. He paid $6,500 in hopes of a better life.
But he and his friend were picked up by Border Patrol. They are searched and questioned, but their plan now is to go back home to Mexico. Because he lost so much money, they don't plan to try illegally entering again.
The border is watched with cameras, K-9s and ATVs. For fiscal year 2016, there were more than 186,000 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants in this area, some leading to arrests. But so far in 2017, the numbers are down.
"It takes a lot of money for folks to cross that river to where they need to go," Thompson said. "If they know they are apprehended, they have to go back. They don't want to waste their money."
Unlike Kentucky where it can take years, at the border, deportations are relatively quick. Most of the people entering illegally aren't from Mexico. Instead, they're from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras
But even with the U.S. government patrolling, people are taking their chances and getting more daring, even with barriers and fencing.
Sometimes border patrol agents track people entering the U.S., but can't find them again. Many immigrants know there is a Mexican flea market right on the other side of the border in Texas.
"It's easy for someone to have a backpack with 2 or 3 kilos of narcotic," Thompson said. "When they cross, if they blend in with the general public, it makes it hard to determine who is who, and they get into the flea market.
"It's crowded, and they disappear."
Flores says it's important for Americans and people in Kentucky to see what they are doing.
"A lot of folks don't know exactly what's going on down here," he said. "They don't know the rate that illegal immigrants are coming across the river, and they don't know the processes of how we're dealing with it once we apprehend them."
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