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For Texas border officials, cartel drones are the latest headache

HIDALGO, Texas (NewsNation) — Human smuggling in the Rio Grande Valley is a daily occurrence and a lucrative business for cartels south of the U.S.-Mexico border. With all of that money on the table, organized crime outfits are investing in technology to protect their profits.

Flying high above in the south Texas night, a small orb of light can be seen on camera by law enforcement: it’s a drone — owned and operated by the Mexican cartels and keeping a watchful eye on law enforcement.

“They’ll use drones to scout our positions, where our border patrol agents are, how can they facilitate the drug trade,” said Brandon Judd of the National Border Patrol Council. “They’ll also use the drones to actually fly into United States land and they’ll carry small packages with drugs.”

Judd said this is happening all along the southern border — regardless of the sector.

NewsNation reporters saw it first-hand when they tagged along with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) on a smuggling bust. In Hidalgo, when law enforcement holds, the smugglers hold their positions as well. But as soon as the agents get a call to move, migrants were sent across the border.

“They’re able to scout everything and watch what we are doing, every movement we are making. That’s why it’s a cat and mouse game and we have to try and be one step ahead of them,” said Lt. Chris Olivarez of DPS.

Sometimes, law enforcement is able to be a step ahead but Judd believes it’s time to evolve.

“We have to beef up our intel,” he said. “We have to beef up understanding and knowing where these drones are coming from, when they’re going to come, where they’re going to land; if we can do that, we can be much more successful.”