A report in the New York Times on August 6 spotlighted the beefing up of the mission of Texas game wardens, who have gone from catching poachers and drunk boaters to apprehending smugglers and human traffickers. While the game wardens have no authority to enforce federal immigration law, they can make arrests for violations of state law, including human trafficking.
However, game wardens patrolling the Rio Grande are likely to encounter more dangerous lawbreakers than fisherman who have exceeded their daily catch limit. And the danger on the river has been going on for years. The Monitor newspaper in McAllen, Texas, which covers the Rio Grande Valley, reported back in 2010 that drug cartel pirates were robbing fisherman on 60-mile-long Falcon Lake (the popular name for Falcon International Reservoir), a manmade lake formed by a dam on the Rio Grande.
“We suggest they stay on this side and not go into Mexico for their own safety,” Capt. Fernando Cervantes with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service in Zapata was quoted as saying by the Monitor. “If anything happens in Mexico, we cannot go over to Mexico.”
In May 2010, pirates from the Los Zetas cartel, claiming to be Mexican Federal Police, boarded at least three U.S. boats and demanded either weapons, drugs, or money.
On September 30, 2010, David Hartley and his wife, Tiffany, from McAllen, Texas, were in waters on the Mexican side of the lake riding jet skis when they were chased by two boats containing about six gunmen. The Zapata County Sheriff said the woman escaped and reported that her husband was shot. He remains missing and is feared dead.
On October 12, 2010, Commander Rolando Flores, the lead Mexican investigator for the David Hartley disappearance case, was beheaded by Mexican drug cartel members and sent in a suitcase to the Mexican military.
Partially because of these dangerous incidents, the U.S. Coast Guard patrols Falcon Lake.
In this environment, it is little wonder that, as the Times reported, Texas game wardens patrol the Rio Grande in boats mounted with .30-caliber machine guns and bulletproof shields.
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