"Texas Navy" fights drug traffickers' escapes on the Rio Grande

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A Texas highway patrol gunboat patrols the Rio Grande. Texas has launched a "mini-Navy" in response to drug traffickers escaping into the river with their durgs during pursuits.
CBS News

(CBS News) DALLAS - One of the central issues in Monday's Supreme Court ruling on immigration was whether states can police their international borders. In Texas, they've decided to defend themselves from drug smugglers -- and authorities are using a surprising new weapon to combat the cartels.

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Video from Texas State Police shows officers chasing a pick-up truck, its bed loaded down with drugs destined for sale in the United States.

The drug runners, once cornered, race back to the border to escape capture.

"They do not care who they run over," said Lt. Charlie Goble, who patrols the Rio Grande Valley. "They do not care how many felonies they commit while they're doing so, their goal is to get away from law enforcement."

The cartels' latest escape technique is something called a "splashdown."

"They just splash their vehicle right into the river," Goble said. "We have seen them jump off 30-foot cliffs into the river."

After the drug runners abandon their vehicles in the river, other cartel members in boats rush in to save their bales of drugs, and whisk them back to the Mexican side of the river, determined to get the drugs back to Mexico.

"The cartels that are controlling these situations -- they're very ruthless," Goble said. "Their life literally depends on them either getting the load to where it's going, or safely getting it back."

Police say the drug traffickers have made these splashdown getaways at least 65 times in the past three years. Texas police don't have the boats they need to stop them -- and the drug runners know it.

"They know once they get back into the water, they're safe," Goble. Said. "All they gotta do is swim home."

The Texas-style solution? Launching its own mini-navy. Six boats, each equipped with multiple machine guns, will soon be patrolling a 54-mile stretch of the Rio Grande.

Steve McCraw heads the Texas Department of Public Safety.

"We're not gonna cede any part of Texas to the Mexican cartels or the gangs that support them," he said. "It's our number one goal to protect Texans from all threats, including criminals -- and certainly the cartels pose a threat to Texas.

How big do you think could the "Texas Navy" water force get?

"As big as it needs to be," McCraw said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it supports the Texas gunboat strategy and will coordinate with state officials on how best to stop smugglers from slipping, or swimming, away.