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Through the haze Smugglers use fog as cover to sneak past border patrol

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Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2016 10:04 pm

NEAR FALFURRIAS — The fog covers the Rio Grande Valley like a giant smoke bomb, giving smugglers an unusual advantage they exploit this time of the year.

Visibility last Monday morning in McAllen was less than a quarter mile because of the dense fog, which hung around until about noon. This atmospheric phenomenon provides a cover commonly used by smugglers illegally crossing the border and circumventing the border patrol checkpoints, according to a recent tweet from CBP.

“San Diego Border Patrol Agents with ATV unit stop a group of people crossing the border illegally under cover of fog; a common scheme,” reads the Nov. 8 tweet from CBP San Diego.

The Monitor witnessed the effects of the fog on CBP operations in the Rio GrandeValley first hand on during a ride along last year with the McAllen Air and Marine Branch.

CBP uses helicopters to provide aerial support to agents tracking groups attempting to cross the vast ranchlands of Brooks County in order to bypass the border patrol checkpoints located about 60 miles north of the Rio Grande on U.S. Highway 281 and U.S. Highway 77.

But on foggy days, helicopters are grounded until visibility is improved. Helicopters were unable to fly until about 10 a.m. during the ride along last year.

William A Durham, director of air operations, explained that CBP helicopters are equipped to fly in the fog using their instruments, but those navigation tools do not help when tracking people on the ground. “We provide the eyes in the sky for any assistance that is needed on the border,” he said during a 2015 interview.

For more than six hours we tracked two groups of migrants that were making their way through the desolate ranchlands of Brooks County trying to circumvent the checkpoint south of Falfurrias.

According to information from agents on the ground, one of the groups consisted of about 15 people and the other of about 20. From the air, however, agents were unable to track anyone. Radio traffic and agents on the ground kept saying we were more than four hours behind them, the same amount of time the helicopter was delayed by the fog that morning.

Despite the people who escaped capture because of the fog, apprehensions in December 2015 were the highest of any month that year. This trend is on track to repeat itself this year as numbers have been on the rise since October.

CBP would not comment if the fog is a leading cause for a rise in illegal smuggling attempts or apprehensions in the Rio GrandeValley but Sector Chief Manuel Padilla has said smugglers will use any tool available to try and sneak past border patrol agents.

“They will use anything at their disposal to get their product across,” Padilla said during an interview earlier this year. “Whether that product is people, or drugs.”

Fog has played a key role in important events in history. The presence of fog over New York and its vicinity allowed General George Washington and the forces under his command to escape capture from the British during the 1776 Battle of Long Island, according to historians.

Fog is also mentioned as a key factor during the Great War and the presence of fog over the coast of Normandy on D-Day provided cover for the allied forces during the Second World War. 

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