MCALLEN, Texas (KXAN) — On Wednesday, Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference in McAllen, Texas to sign SB 576 into law.
The new law seeks to crack down on human smuggling by broadening the definition of a smuggler and increasing the number of smuggling charges that constitute a second-degree felony.
“This all makes it easier to arrest and to prosecute human smugglers. This law also increases criminal penalties for human smuggling, especially when payment is involved in that process,” said Abbott at Wednesday’s press conference.
In the Rio Grande sector alone, border patrol agents have found a total of 425 migrant stash houses throughout the valley, which equates to a 250% increase since last year, according to border patrol agent Jesse Moreno. He said these stash houses, which can range from hotel rooms to trailers, are oftentimes found in dreadful conditions.
“We’ve seen instances where there have been 30 plus people in a small trailer home that’s meant for about a family of four or five people… the accumulated trash is built up for days on end without anyone taking it out,”
Over the weekend, border patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley found more than 10 migrants living in a single hotel room, some of whom had been staying there for more than 30 days.
“Somebody spotted suspicious activity and notified us, and our border patrol agents went out there, observed two individuals that were ultimately harboring additional subjects there,” Moreno explained.
However, according to Moreno, catching smugglers in the act is a much trickier operation.
“A lot of times the person that is harboring the individuals there will not be on location when law enforcement agents arrive at the location, because they know that there is consequences for their illicit activity,” Moreno explained.
While SB 576 increases law enforcement’s ability to prosecute smugglers and the severity of their punishment, it does not aid in catching them. However, Moreno hopes the law will serve as a warning for smugglers.
“Any operation that imposes stiffer fines or jail time for individuals is a deterrent, and we appreciate the assistance that we can get.”
The bill officially went into effect on Sept. 1.