McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The deployment of small unmanned aircraft systems helped U.S. Border Patrol agents locate a large group of migrants who were running north of the Rio Grande on Wednesday morning, agency officials said.

Agents launched the 10-pound unmanned flying unit after reports that several migrants had been reported running south of Mission, Texas, after illegally crossing the river.

The SUAC helped to give agents an aerial view of the situation where they found 17 migrants “hiding in the brush,” agency officials said.

The migrants were from Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian national was identified as Milton Geovany Lema-Morales and records revealed he had a prior arrest in New York state and had been charged with rape in the third-degree of a child under 17 years old and had received a 10-year prison sentence.

Infared images taken from a small unmanned aircraft system operated by U.S. Border Patrol show the location of 17 migrants who were apprehended on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, running north of the Rio Grande near the town of Mission, Texas. (Border Patrol photo)

“Even with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, human smugglers continue to try these brazen attempts with zero regard for the lives they endanger nor to the health of the citizens of our great nation. The U.S. Border Patrol agents of the Rio Grande Valley Sector will continue to safeguard the nation and community against these criminal elements,” agency officials said in a statement.

These latest arrests add to the over 2,500 migrants who have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley Sector since March 1 using small unmanned aircraft systems, John Morris, division chief of law enforcement programs for the Border Patrol’s RGV Sector told Border Report recently.

Morris on Friday detailed another arrest of 62 migrants who were found hiding in a sugar cane field after agents deployed a SUAC in the field.

Morris said the agency intends to train more agents on how to operate these drone-like remote-controlled aircraft that are equipped with infrared cameras, as well as purchase more units to use in the field. He said the devices are very portable and easy to deploy and help to safeguard agents by allowing the device to send back images from a scene without agents having to enter an area where they could potentially face risks to their health during this coronavirus pandemic.