MISSION — Border Patrol Agent Robert Rodriguez is navigating his green and white SUV over a muddy stretch of road in deep South Texas when his two-way radio crackles with fresh intel.
“970 took a hit. Two bodies in an open field,” says an agent in the tactical operations center, five miles away in McAllen. Translation: Two suspected migrants who crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico were spotted on a surveillance camera and are now heading toward U.S. 83. It’s game on — for the third time in as many hours.
Rodriguez steps on the gas.
Minutes later, after a chase along a canal bank involving all-terrain vehicles, they’ve caught three men, including 21-year-old Luis Perez, who had left Cuernavaca in late September after an earthquake rocked central Mexico and destroyed his home.
The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.
Crouched in the shade of a Border Patrol SUV, a dejected-looking Perez says their young smugglers — teenage “coyotes” — abandoned his group in the dense brambles of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, so they decided to make a run for it. It’s his third attempt in 10 days, which means the jig is up. For his $8,000 smuggling fee, a chunk of which goes to pay a “tax” to the cartel that controls the territory here, Perez gets three tries.
“That’s why I was trying to get away,” Perez says. “If it were free, I wouldn’t care if I got caught.”
Border Patrol Agent Herman Rivera, who