LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — A table full of seized rifles, pistols and other firearms on display for media on Thursday shows off the spoils of a federal joint operation that officials say is proving successful in stopping weapons from going from the United States to Mexico.
“Our No. 1 priority is national security and this includes the stem of firearms going into Mexico from the United States and I can tell you that Laredo and other offices are leading the charge against firearms going into Mexico,” said Michael Makens, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.
The federal agencies involved in Operation Without a Trace include Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); U.S. Border Patrol; the Department of Justice; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and even the U.S. Postal Service.
“By coming together with a common mission we are pooling our resources,” said Craig Larrabee, HSI special agent in charge from San Antonio.
This fiscal year, CBP’s Laredo Sector has seized at ports of entry 620 weapons and over 75,000 rounds of ammunition that were bound for Mexico.
On Aug. 23, CBP officers in Del Rio, Texas confiscated 13,400 rounds of ammo that were hidden in trash cans inside a cargo van headed for Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, CBP officials said.
CBP’s Laredo Office of Field Operations spans hundreds of miles to Brownsville. Eugene Crawford, acting deputy field officer for the sector, said 31% of all travelers nearly 60% of all trade coming from Mexico into the United States enter through this area.
That includes the World Trade Bridge, the largest land port for commercial vehicles in the United States.
Crawford said drugs and human smugglers typically try to come north across the border; weapons and cash tend to head south into Mexico to fund drug cartels and to arm them against Mexican authorities and other rival cartels.
The impetus has always been to screen northbound travelers but now screening those heading south for weapons is a priority, officials said.
“All these weapons were headed to different organizations in Mexico. And if they get a hold of these weapons that is the battle that you see on TV. Those are the fights with Mexican authorities. Those are the weapons used to terrorize the communities in Mexico. They are weapons used to control areas, to control the drug trade,” Larrabee told Border Report.
At the Juárez–Lincoln International Bridge, known by Laredoans as “Bridge 2,” a mobile X-ray vehicle scans vehicles that have been pulled for further inspections.
The vehicle looks like an ambulance. It’s boxy with lights and beeps as it moves up and back.
Drivers and vehicle occupants wait in a grassy area nearby as their cars and trucks are scanned. Sometimes they’re asked to open the trunk or other compartments. And despite the triple-digit heat, there were no complaints heard on Thursday when Border Report watched the process occur again and again.
Once the vehicles are cleared, they head south over the bridge to Nuevo Laredo.
Firearms have been hidden in gas tanks, luggage, air compressors, engines, and under truck plates.
“Any way they can, they try,” Crawford said.
The U.S. Postal Service is also involved with Operation Without a Trace, helping to identify suspicious packages and parcels that could contain either firearms, weapon parts or ammunition headed to drug cartels in Mexico.
“When they are prevented from getting their weapons, they lose strength and influence. And that makes our communities safer,” said Robert Topper, of ATF.
Officials said many weapons also are stolen from vehicles in the United States and sent to Mexico. Authorities urge those who carry weapons to keep track of them.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.