(The Center Square) – In a recent El Paso human smuggling bust, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers working through Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission Operation Lone Star seized weapons, body armor, and ammunition after arresting alleged human smugglers connected to Mexican cartels.

DPS Criminal Investigations Division (CID) special agents working through OLS last month identified a human smuggling ring tied to the Nuevo Cartel De Juarez and La Linea Cartel. The cartels operate out of El Paso County and in Sunland Park, New Mexico, DPS says.

The FBI has warned that the Texas border city is a major human smuggling and kidnapping destination. El Paso, located across the Rio Grande River from Ciudad Juárez, is just miles from where rival gangs and cartels are fighting for control of a multi-billion-dollar human and drug smuggling enterprise.

One year ago, DPS officers rescued an 18-month-old baby who’d been kidnapped and held for ransom in El Paso.

Last month, DPS special agents and Highway Patrol troopers worked with the U.S. Border Patrol agents to identify cartel members involved in an El Paso human smuggling ring. They apprehended one alleged cartel member after a traffic stop, where they discovered a short barrel firearm in his possession. He was believed to be providing security for the human smuggling operation.

They also identified alleged cartel members by the images they posted of themselves on social media heavily armed, wearing cartel attire, and paying tribute to the La Linea Cartel. DPS special agents then executed a search warrant in El Paso and seized a cache of weapons and ammunition.

In New Mexico, State Police, Homeland Security Investigations and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents also executed search warrants leading to the seizure of 10 firearms, body armor and thousands of rounds of ammunition. They also arrested two Mexican nationals: Lorena Anyla Enrique Acosta, 28, and Edmundo Rodriguez Padilla, 24.

Acosta had no legal documentation to be in the U.S. and was a previously employed as a Mexican state police officer, DPS said.

Authorities also arrested two New Mexicans as part of the operation: Adam Isaiah Ramirez, 27, and Gustavo Alexis Enriquez Acosta, 23.

All four men were charged with numerous state and federal charges, including possession of a prohibited weapon, human smuggling, alien in possession of a firearm, and conspiracy to transport and harbor. A multi-agency investigation is ongoing.

“This case, and the resulting seizure, illustrates the strength of collaboration between law enforcement in order to combat gun violence in the community,” DPS West Texas Region said in a statement.

Earlier this year, The Center Square met with DPS West Texas Region Commander Juan Sanchez, who explained that cartel traffickers are housing illegal foreign nationals in El Paso hotels and Airbnb rentals. “It’s been a toll on local businesses, the community and everybody else,” he said.

Texas DPS special agents working with Border Patrol are actively identifying stash houses, he added, saying, “we’ve been very successful.” Previously, stash houses held groups of 20-30 people. After surges began under the Biden administration, they were holding groups of 50, 100, 150, he said.

“DPS and local law enforcement partners are working around the clock to prevent transnational crimes from being committed in communities around the state,” he added. “These stash houses contain people or drugs that may have otherwise made their way across Texas and the nation because of the dangerous gaps left by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure the border. With the help of Texans across the state, we can bring criminals to justice, destroy their illegal enterprises, and keep our communities safe.”

Last fall, DPS increased the reward to $5,000 for any information leading to a stash house connected to transnational crime. This year, the Texas legislature passed legislation to increase penalties for human smuggling and those operating stash houses.

Stash houses can be identified by the volume of trash placed outside, different types of vehicles entering and exiting the property at all hours of the day or night, and the vehicles often have different license plates, including paper “buyer” or “dealer” tags.

Those operating stash houses are considered to be armed and dangerous and likely associated with cartels or gangs and should not be approached, DPS warns.

“DPS is asking the public to be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activity,” it said, by calling El Paso Crimestoppers at (915) 566-8477.

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