Tribpedia: Bordering on Insecurity

Over the next year, The Texas Tribune is taking a deep look at the issues of border security and immigration, topics never far from the headlines — or the presidential trail. The Tribune will report on the reality and rhetoric around issues like the removal of undocumented criminal offenders, the stemming of government corruption and the conditions many immigrants are ...

Defense attorney Carlos Garcia (r.) confers with former Border Patrol agent Joel Luna.
Defense attorney Carlos Garcia (r.) confers with former Border Patrol agent Joel Luna.

Two sharply different portrayals of Border Patrol agent at murder trial

Devoted public servant who protected the nation’s borders and erred only by helping out his family? Or leader of a drug- and gun-trafficking enterprise? Those were the two portraits that emerged of Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna at his two-week murder trial. Now, a jury will decide his fate as early as Monday.

Chief Prosecutor Gus Garza walks by a safe brought into the courtroom as evidence during the murder trial of former Border Patrol agent Joel Luna and his brother Eduardo Luna Rodriguez.
Chief Prosecutor Gus Garza walks by a safe brought into the courtroom as evidence during the murder trial of former Border Patrol agent Joel Luna and his brother Eduardo Luna Rodriguez.

Jury to decide Border Patrol agent's fate

The fate of Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna and his Mexican-born brother Eduardo, both charged with drug trafficking and the murder of a would-be snitch, is set to fall to a Cameron County jury Friday after almost two weeks of testimony and sparring over evidence.

Border Patrol agent Joel Luna (seated) and lead defense attorney Carlos Garcia on the first day of Luna's trial in the slaying of Franky Palacios on Jan. 17, 2017.
Border Patrol agent Joel Luna (seated) and lead defense attorney Carlos Garcia on the first day of Luna's trial in the slaying of Franky Palacios on Jan. 17, 2017.

Border Patrol agent tied to smuggled money but not to slaying in day 3 of trial

Joel Luna, the Border Patrol agent on trial for capital murder in Brownsville, was linked to hundreds of thousands of dollars in smuggled money by the prosecution's star witness — Luna's older brother Eduardo.

Lead defense attorney Carlos Garcia assists defendant Joel Luna in putting on a tie prior to Luna's murder trial in Brownsville on January 17, 2017.
Lead defense attorney Carlos Garcia assists defendant Joel Luna in putting on a tie prior to Luna's murder trial in Brownsville on January 17, 2017.

Sparring over evidence marks first day of Border Patrol agent's trial

A state judge ruled that a statement Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna voluntarily gave authorities can be used in his murder trial.  Sparring over evidence marked the first day of his trial in South Texas, in a case that has stoked concern about alleged law enforcement corruption on the U.S. side of the border.

Ex-Border Patrol agent Joel Luna confers with attorney Carlos Garcia after his arraignment in Brownsville before Judge Benjamin Euresti on Feb. 3, 2016.
Ex-Border Patrol agent Joel Luna confers with attorney Carlos Garcia after his arraignment in Brownsville before Judge Benjamin Euresti on Feb. 3, 2016.

Border Patrol agent's murder trial begins this week

The capital murder case began in 2015 with the discovery of a headless body floating off South Padre Island. The trial of two men charged in the case — a U.S. Border Patrol agent and his Mexican-born brother — begins today in South Texas.

Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump greets a group of border patrol agents on stage during an August 23, 2016 rally. Trump announced the border patrol endorsement during the rally
Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump greets a group of border patrol agents on stage during an August 23, 2016 rally. Trump announced the border patrol endorsement during the rally

8 border security secrets state and federal officials don't want to reveal

Trying to get beyond the rhetoric on border security or immigration at the state or federal level is often a fool's errand. Here are eight secrets in those often shadowy arenas. 

After chasing away smugglers who were using rafts to bring drugs across the river, Border Patrol and Texas DPS agents inspect several large packages of marijuana abandoned near the Rio Grande shoreline. The packages were later found to weigh 313 pounds, making them worth an estimated $240,000 on the street.
After chasing away smugglers who were using rafts to bring drugs across the river, Border Patrol and Texas DPS agents inspect several large packages of marijuana abandoned near the Rio Grande shoreline. The packages were later found to weigh 313 pounds, making them worth an estimated $240,000 on the street.

Legalizing marijuana might have negligible impact on border security

Supporters of legal marijuana say it would help ease problems with drug smuggling at the southern border, but experts say drug cartels would probably just switch to other products.

45-year-old Nickolas Mares is described by DPS as a “high-threat criminal,” though he only faced a drug possession charge. He can hardly speak from a stroke and lives with his mother in Rio Grande City.
45-year-old Nickolas Mares is described by DPS as a “high-threat criminal,” though he only faced a drug possession charge. He can hardly speak from a stroke and lives with his mother in Rio Grande City.

Most border arrests by Texas troopers are not for drug smuggling

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DPS has added more troopers to the border under the assumed objective that they're going after drug and human smugglers. But most of their arrests are for drunk driving and misdemeanor drug possession. 

A DPS trooper spots a motorist along Highway 83 in Starr County.
A DPS trooper spots a motorist along Highway 83 in Starr County.

Many border drug smugglers avoid prison

In two key counties, less than a quarter of the “high-threat criminals” arrested by Department of Public Safety troopers for felony drug offenses during the state’s border surge have been sent to prison.

A student presents her answers to gang related questions in an El Salvador elementary school workbook. "What have you heard recently about gangs and violence?" the question asks. "That there are a lot of murders" reads the student's response.
A student presents her answers to gang related questions in an El Salvador elementary school workbook. "What have you heard recently about gangs and violence?" the question asks. "That there are a lot of murders" reads the student's response.

U.S.-funded programs try to convince Central Americans to stay home

The United States is helping fund anti-gang initiatives and jobs programs in Central America, trying to decrease the flow of migrants heading north for the Texas-Mexico border.