On the lookout: Border Patrol agents fight to change long history of illegal smuggling

ROMA — A man inside a black Chevy Malibu waited by the empty city park, a known pick-up spot just 300 yards north of the Rio Grande, as three people jumped out of nearby brush and into the car in broad daylight.

Border Patrol agents watched the smuggling operation miles away in the Rio Grande City station command center on large monitors broadcasting live aerial footage from surveillance cameras mounted on towers and aerostat balloons in the area.

Agents near the park listened to their radios as the command center tracked the driver through a residential area where kids could be seen playing in the street and their elders watched over them from the front porch.

“I want their training to become second nature to them, and for them to rely on the tools and knowledge necessary to make informed decisions without having to rely on me or anyone else because out here every second counts,” said the station’s Patrol Agent in Charge Ryan Landrum during an exclusive ride along with The Monitor last month.

Landrum listened from inside his unmarked SUV parked behind the local Burger King as agents strategized a plan. With the safety of the community in mind, they tried to avoid a high-speed chase and approached the car without turning on their sirens, planning a cutoff spot near the local Exxon.

Minutes later, the driver in the Malibu got spooked by something near the gas station and three men jumped out of the car into a nearby field. A rookie agent jumped out of one of the Border Patrol SUVs and chased after them on foot while his partner continued to tail the Malibu into another residential area off North Ebony Avenue.

The agent lost sight of the car as three other patrol units joined the pursuit, including Landrum who drove up and down the narrow streets looking for the black car.

Agents in the command center also lost sight of the car after it entered a dirt lot with a mobile home and drove under a covered car port. Landrum and the other agents rushed toward the area as surveillance cameras captured a man walking out from under the car port and boarding a brown SUV with tinted windows parked across the street.

But before the driver could reach the rush-hour traffic on Highway 83, a few blocks south, in his new getaway vehicle, agents stopped and arrested him, drawing to a close a chase that took about 10 minutes.

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