SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The Texas Highway Patrol will soon hit the water. The Rio Grande, actually.
Arguing the federal government continues to do too little, too late to protect the U.S.-Mexico border, the state of Texas feels compelled to pick up the slack.
The Rio Grande Valley, the 120-mile-wide stretch of the Texas-Mexico border in the deepest part of Texas, has become the nerve center for Mexican drug cartel cross-border activity.
Other agencies - such as the U.S. Border Patrol and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - already have boats in the area. But soon, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) will have its own boat unit.
The Texas Highway Patrol, a division of DPS, will launch in March the first of six 34-foot-long patrol boats on the Rio Grande. The $3.5 million effort comes through a combination of federal homeland security grants and state funds.
Each boat will have a crew of six troopers. They're being trained now.
Texas Highway Patrol Major Robert Bailey explains the effort is needed to combat powerful Mexican drug cartels.
"Transnational criminal organizations exploit our border and our citizens nearly daily by crossing the river to smuggle guns, humans, money, weapons, ammo," Bailey said. "And we’re just there as another tool to help deter them crossing at will."
The new “Tactical Marine Unit” is the latest border-protection effort by the Texas DPS. The agency already keeps an eye from the air through its four helicopters, also funded through federal and state funds.