ROMA, Starr County – The U.S. Border Patrol agent had not seen an undocumented immigrant in hours, so when he heard that a nearby camera had spotted 15 people preparing to sneak into America, he grabbed his radio and pressed it to his ear.
“Here we go,” thought Agent Jose Luis Perales. He stopped his truck a few miles northwest of the group, at the top of a hill overlooking a sea of arid ranchland.
Perales was built like a linebacker at 6 feet tall and 235 pounds, but his 16 years in the Border Patrol had taught him it would take more than physical power to catch the group after it crossed. Multiple agents would have to converge at just the right moment: Pouncing too soon would allow the migrants to dart back into Mexico and regroup for another try. Moving too late would let them disappear into this town an hour west of McAllen – possibly carrying illicit drugs.
He had nearly four hours until his shift would end at 10 p.m., but on this late July evening, Perales would not have to wait long.
Within minutes, an agent watching the migrants radioed that they had crossed the border and that a white van was creeping toward them.
“I think that was the load vehicle,” the agent said.
Perales put his hand on his truck’s gear shift, waiting for a signal to hit the gas.
“Come on,” he whispered.
No signal came, however. Instead, the radio reported that another vehicle was driving toward the migrants – a Texas state trooper’s cruiser.
The trooper had not notified the Border Patrol, leaving the agents to wonder what was happening.
“He’s driving down there,” Perales repeated to himself. “What for?”