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 ...

Brownsville jurors shown cash and safe as Border Patrol agent's murder trial continues

Chief Prosecutor Gus Garza examines a safe and cash seized from Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna's mother-in-law's home, during Luna's murder trial on Jan. 20, 2017 in Brownsville.
Chief Prosecutor Gus Garza examines a safe and cash seized from Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna's mother-in-law's home, during Luna's murder trial on Jan. 20, 2017 in Brownsville.

Hoping to bolster their assertion that Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna used thousands of dollars in smuggled money from Mexico and participated in a criminal enterprise that took the life of a would-be snitch, prosecutors showed jurors a safe they say he used to store the money. 

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. 

Rafts made of inflatable tires and wooden slats ferry people and goods across the Suchiate River separating Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, and Tecun Uman, Guatemala, with the international bridge connecting the two countries in the background.
Rafts made of inflatable tires and wooden slats ferry people and goods across the Suchiate River separating Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, and Tecun Uman, Guatemala, with the international bridge connecting the two countries in the background.

Mexico fights illegal immigration on its own southern border

Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has tried to cut down the flow of Central American immigrants passing through on their way to the southern U.S. border.

A Policia Nacional Civil patrol in the 22 de Abril neighborhood of Soyapango, just outside of San Salvador, El Salvador. The neighborhood is known to be controlled by the Mara Salvatrucha gang.
A Policia Nacional Civil patrol in the 22 de Abril neighborhood of Soyapango, just outside of San Salvador, El Salvador. The neighborhood is known to be controlled by the Mara Salvatrucha gang.

Hiding in Austin, a former El Salvador policeman seeks asylum

After years of trying to help control El Salvador's violent gangs, the danger became too great for the former detective and his family.

Unaccompanied child migrants from Honduras voluntarily turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents near Roma, Texas, on Mar. 8, 2016.
Unaccompanied child migrants from Honduras voluntarily turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents near Roma, Texas, on Mar. 8, 2016.

After a lull in 2015, border apprehensions surge

Apprehension of families and unaccompanied children surged again along the Texas-Mexico border in 2016, reflecting the new prevalence of illegal immigration from Central America.