September 26, 2014

BY: DFW CBS

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – A special state search team, trained in rescue and recovery operations and ordered by Gov. Rick Perry to assist Brooks County with locating human remains of suspected illegal immigrants, is also saving lives during its mission.

According to the Texas State Guard, during their first search mission of private ranch land on September 19, they found two people showing signs of heat distress and dehydration. They told team members about a woman who was on the property; reportedly near death. The Texas State Guard members immediately began a secondary search for the woman. Once located, the woman, identified later as a Honduran national, was administered lifesaving aid and evacuated by a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter for further care. All three, as well as two additional people located in the immediate area, were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“This state-led effort is aimed at addressing yet another consequence of a border left unsecure by the federal government –fortunately this time it did not end in the loss of life,” Gov. Perry said. “But as long as the federal government refuses to secure our border and end policies that encourage people to risk their lives in an attempt to enter our country illegally, we will continue to see the death toll rise in places like Brooks County.”

Since 2011, at least 332 sets of human remains were recovered in Brooks County alone. While this effort is not part of Operation Strong Safety, the majority of the remains  recovered are suspected to be those of illegal immigrants who died attempting to avoid detection while entering the U.S., or are suspected victims of human smuggling or trafficking by Mexican cartels or their operatives.

“Whether these people are found alive or dead, this is a human tragedy Brooks County has no choice but to address,” Brooks County Sheriff Rey Rodriguez said. “In its very first mission, this state search team has already shown its value in helping our county deal with the issue, and I expect they will discover many more victims during subsequent searches, either deceased or clinging to life.”

“Our priority is meeting our mission, and that is finding victims who did not survive their trek through this hazardous landscape,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, Commander-Domestic Operations Task Force, Texas Military Forces. “But any time our service members can use their training to save a life – that is a rewarding outcome.”

“Mexican cartels and transnational gangs continue to exploit private property for drug and human smuggling, and too often, victims are left dead or dying in the elements with little to no hope of survival,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “While DPS continues working to secure the border and combat criminal activity, we will also continue to support Brooks County and our state and federal partners on the border.”

When requested by the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, these specially-trained teams of approximately 20 to 25 personnel will search for human remains in the area. The Texas State Guardsmen conducting the searches are trained in search and rescue/recovery operations, and will utilize a variety of resources, including all-terrain vehicles, cadaver dogs, grid searches and medical support personnel. Security support during these searches will be provided by DPS Troopers or U.S. Border Patrol agents, who will also provide specialized resources for these recovery missions. The Texas Rangers may also provide investigative support for these cases when requested.

During these missions, if the search teams encounter criminal actors or individuals who are suspected to be or admittedly in the country illegally, those individuals will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement officials.

The Governor’s Division of Criminal Justice has previously awarded Brooks County $151,150 in state grant funds to assist with the costs of autopsies and transporting remains to the medical examiner in Laredo. Grant funds have also helped purchase a four-wheel drive SUV for use in accessing remote areas where remains are located, in-car video cameras and computers. Brooks County is in the process of applying for a second grant to help with ongoing costs for remains recovery and autopsies.