Authorities in South Texas said today that they won’t be intimidated by increasingly violent drug smugglers, announcing a larger Border Patrol presence and that more heavily armed deputies will be authorized to return fire across the Mexican border.
Operation “River Freedom Denial” will target areas along the Rio Grande in the southern tip of Texas where violence has risen lately with more ground and air resources, said Border Patrol sector chief Ronald Vitiello.
Standing with a Texas Department of Public Safety captain and the Hidalgo County Sheriff, Vitiello cited an exchange of gunfire between his agents and drug smugglers Monday and another incident this week of a smuggler ramming an agent’s truck in making his escape.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said the deputies he will assign to the operation along the river will all be issued fully automatic rifles and authorized to return fire.
“We are not going to be intimidated by the increased aggression,” Trevino said.
He recalled an incident in 2006 when more than 300 shots were fired across the river at his deputies and Border Patrol agents. At that time he decided to pull his deputies back from the river for their safety.
Not this time.
“If fired upon we will respond in kind,” he said.
Cases of violence against Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector have increased for three consecutive years. This year there have been more than 130 incidents including assaults and people throwing rocks at agents, said Border Patrol spokesman Dan Doty.
Violence at this end of the Rio Grande pales in comparison to West Texas where more than 1,100 people have been killed in drug cartel violence this year in Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso.