Florida troops assist Texas officers in apprehending gang members, known terrorists at border

Florida is one of 24 states whose governors have offered assistance to augment the efforts of OLS.

Published: June 7, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

Florida law enforcement officers working through Texas’ border security mission, Operation Lone Star, are assisting with apprehending foreign nationals after they illegally enter Texas.

In just a few weeks, they’ve interacted with more than 5,800 foreign nationals and helped Texas Department of Public Safety officers arrest more than 190 people, according to the Florida governor's office. Those arrested include MS-13 gang members also identified as known, suspected terrorists, human smugglers and a suspect with a capital murder warrant. They’ve also helped seize cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, drug paraphernalia, firearms and boxes of ammunition.

Foreign nationals who illegally entered Texas and were encountered by Florida law enforcement are citizens of China, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Columbia, El Salvador and several Middle Eastern countries, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. In one recent weekend, they helped apprehend citizens from African countries and from Cuba, Bolivia and Iran, who they detained and turned over to Border Patrol.

Over 400 Florida personnel are supporting the Texas Military Department, including assisting with static observation points, roving patrols, and obstacle improvement.

An additional 30 Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agents and nine support team members and 101 officers with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and Florida Highway Patrol are assisting with OLS.

FHP Sgt. Leonard Yuknavage has been in Texas since DeSantis first sent law enforcement there, he said in a statement. Stationed along the Rio Grande River in the Brownsville area, he said, “we’ve been coming into contact with multiple migrants. They either cut it, crawl under it, crawl through it,” referring to concertina wire barriers.

“What we’re doing is, basically, grabbing hold of them. If they get over the wire we turn them over to Border Patrol,” he said in a video posted by DeSantis’ office.

The majority trying to illegally enter are Venezuelans and adults, he said.

One area “that is a problem,” he said, “is where they usually come across on rafts. They’ll swim across and they’ll crawl up the bushes and make their way,” trying to get into Texas. He said there’s also people swimming across the river “trying to give us their babies. Literal babies. We had one on the line right here when they were trying to get through, they literally threw their baby over the line. Something needs to be done.”

Yuknavage’s team is at the southernmost part of the Rio Grande Valley near the Brownsville Port of Entry. Thousands of foreign nationals are encamped along the Rio Grande River in different areas of Mexico near the Texas border. In the area just a few hundred yards from the riverbank near Brownsville, instead of legally applying to enter at the port by walking across the bridge, they swim across the river below the bridge to try and illegally enter Texas. They are then stopped by OLS.

Gov. Greg Abbott directed TMD to erect concertina wire and other barriers, which has helped block illegally entry between ports of entry. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Texas Military Department officers have warned people not to illegally enter between ports of entry.

The Department of Homeland Security has warned that illegal entry between ports of entry will disqualify individuals and families from its new parole programs DHS implemented. However, these programs were halted by federal courts in a lawsuit filed by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.

Also working with Texas DPS, Florida troopers assisted with nearly 700 traffic stops, eight commercial vehicle inspections, and seven pursuits. In one traffic stop, for example, they seized an estimated $500,000 of currency – a likely interdiction of cartel funds. As law enforcement officers have explained to The Center Square, people and drugs are primarily smuggled north, money, guns, ammunition and other contraband are smuggled south.

Over the last few weeks, Florida officers’ efforts have resulted in nine narcotic-related charges, 17 federal and/or state warrant arrest on fugitives, the seizure of two firearms, identifying gang members and apprehending foreign nationals hiding inside vehicles.

FHP has been involved with seven human smuggling/human trafficking arrests and nearly 100 overall arrests, the governor’s office said.

FHP has also deployed unmanned aircraft over 200 times, helping to locate over 650 gotaways, those who illegally entered and intentionally sought to evade capture.

Florida is one of 24 states whose governors have offered assistance to augment the efforts of OLS.

The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook


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