Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Special Agent Anthony Salas died last week after a highway accident while transporting six apprehended illegal migrants near Eagle Pass, Texas. Salas was working as part of Operation Lone Star, a Texas state effort to shore up the Southwest border in the state. That border is becoming increasingly dangerous as it devolves further into chaos.
Salas’ death hits close to home. Thanks to the efforts of Texas DPS, I was embedded with troopers when I traveled to Del Rio, Texas, in August. As I wrote at the time, there was little evidence of the border there, with few Border Patrol agents “on the line”, either by the international boundary at the Rio Grande or on the streets — a jarring image given their ubiquity during my prior trip there, four years before.
Border Patrol Is Overwhelmed by the Migrant Surge. Why are there so few Border Patrol agents at the border? Because they have their hands full apprehending, processing, and caring for the thousands of illegal migrants who are pouring in daily. In November alone, Border Patrol apprehended more than 173,000 illegal migrants at the Southwest border — an average of more than 5,787 per day.
In Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector (which includes Eagle Pass), apprehensions in the first two months of FY 2022 are up more than 247 percent, to over 91,650, compared with the first two months of FY 2021 (26,356). In FY 2020, there were just over 1,500 agents assigned to Del Rio sector, working 50-hour weekly shifts — way too few to deal with the surge there.
Operation Lone Star. That is why there are 1,600 troopers assigned to the border as part of Operation Lone Star, which was launched in March. As Governor Greg Abbott explained when the operation was implemented:
The crisis at our southern border continues to escalate because of Biden Administration policies that refuse to secure the border and invite illegal immigration. ... Texas supports legal immigration but will not be an accomplice to the open border policies that cause, rather than prevent, a humanitarian crisis in our state and endanger the lives of Texans. We will surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis.
In November, I reported on how overwhelmed those officers were despite the significant resources that Texas has devoted to the border. Since then, there have been allegations of pay issues among Texas National Guardsmen who are also part of that effort, and reports that four guardsmen have taken their own lives.
The state has been working to address the pay problems, but it has pushed back against allegations that the suicides were linked to the operation.
I certainly did not see any morale problems when I was in Del Rio in August, though I did attempt to put the officers’ service into a larger national security and law enforcement context. It is the federal government’s job to provide border security, but since Washington can’t or won’t do it (or more precisely refuses to fix the policies that are encouraging illegal migrants), it is left up to the state.
National Guardsman Stops Vehicle to Save His Partner. Speaking of the National Guard, however, a soldier assigned as part of Operation Lone Star shot at and stopped a suspected smuggling vehicle near Laredo, Texas, to protect one of his partners on January 18. The pair were helping Border Patrol agents in an attempt to stop a sedan that had been seen picking up illegal migrants.
According to press reports, the driver of the suspect car “‘put the vehicle in reverse and then into drive” before gunning the vehicle in an apparent attempt to ram the first soldier”. His partner discharged six rounds from his M4 carbine into the hood to disable the car. The driver made it a short distance before bailing out, after which he was taken into custody.
It is Beyond Time for the Biden Administration to Gain Control of the Border. Traffic accidents and fleeing vehicles are part of life at the border, as any Border Patrol agent will tell you. That said, reports that I have heard indicate that smugglers are now becoming more brazen — and the border deadlier.
Salas, who joined DPS in 2013, had served as a trooper in the Texas Highway Patrol before becoming a special agent in DPS’s Criminal Investigations Division. Prior to joining DPS, he had served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Emergency Medical Service personnel transported Special Agent Salas to Fort Duncan Regional Medical Center, before he was flown to University Hospital in San Antonio, where he succumbed to his injuries surrounded by his family.
One DPS death is one too many. It is beyond time for the Biden administration to act to bring the Southwest border under control.