CBP patrols the ground with eyes in the sky

Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 10:06 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - While Border Patrol agents continue to try and bust human smuggling attempts on the ground, sometimes they need some help from up above.

That’s when they can count on a set of eyes in the sky.

With the climbing temperatures we’re expecting, those eyes are more valuable now than ever.

The Air and Marine Operations Branch contributed to close to 12,400 apprehensions over the last year as they partner with various law enforcement agencies throughout the Laredo area.

They have been using ASTAR, a short range turbine powered lift enforcement helicopter to conduct aerial patrol and surveillance of stationary or moving targets.

“Air surveillance is an opportunity for us to give situational awareness to our law enforcement, partnering with those on the ground with actual techniques and how we do that is law enforcement sensitive.”

“The benefit is beyond words. The fact that we can get a call for a rescue, be it an immigrant or an agent, even the fact we can get there like this-just give us your co-ordinates and we’ll be there. Most of our guys are certified EMT’s, so we can not only get to you, but render aid if needed.”

The number of rescues has increased with good reason as numerous distress calls come in from migrants in need of desperate medical help.

“Insanely, insanely necessary at the moment given the heat- a lot of people underestimate the heat around here,” said Jamie Soto, Jr., aviation enforcement agent. “They think they can handle the trek out in the bush, a day later they realize, oh wow!”

The Laredo air branch is seeing a 143% increase in apprehensions and there is no sign of seeing that number going down.

“We had an explosion of search and recuse that have been our bread and butter in the Laredo area,” said Brian Paul. “Last year, we had seven search and rescues. This year, so far, we’ve had a 104.”

Paul notes the number of rescues last year was at seven, a massive difference six months into the year.

Six thousand apprehensions were assisted by the air branch, and the number is about to double.

“Do you think sometimes the public misunderstands your mission? Honestly, I think the people of Laredo don’t realize this mission. They just see a white helicopter in the sky and they probably don’t give it much thought.”

One thing that people should give much thought to is the fact that the Laredo air branch covers more than two thousand miles of linear border and they also assist in the seizure of thousands of pounds of narcotics.

CBP has recorded a 28% increase in migrants over the first two months of the year with close to 1,500 apprehensions.

However, in 2019 under the Trump administration, they reported a 31% increase over the same period, which is a bigger jump than we’re seeing now.

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