MCALLEN, Texas -- Over the past decade, border security has been beefed up on the front lines to meet demands from border agents and officials trying to fulfill promises to voters. One patrol division with a unique advantage over smugglers has been particularly busy.
“We’re expanding down here and one of the reasons is because we’re busy,” said Air and Marine Operations interdiction agent Matthew Noble.
AMO is a division of Customs and Border Protection that tends to fly under the radar. It's composed of roughly 1,800 agents and support staff.
The Air and Marine Operations branch is a specialized team of border enforcers that continues to grow as cartel organizations seek ways to break laws and border security.
“The work down here has increased over the last 10 years for CBP as it relates to national security and also drug trafficking and alien smuggling,” Noble explained.
In 2016 alone, 97,000 hours were utilized to protect the U.S.-Mexico border.
With that, apprehensions also rose to a total of 55,923 suspects; a 9 percent jump compared to 2015. Over the same period, weapons and drug seizures saw a decline.
Air agents hold an advantage over smugglers and undocumented immigrants with a bird’s eye-view of the landscape. But that’s not to say that there aren’t any challenges.
“Some areas are pretty open, some are pretty thick. It’s kind of hard to see in there,” AMO pilot David Cano noted. “For me, the biggest thing is being able to see the overall, big picture of whatever the situation is.”
Agent Cano went from being a customs agent for a decade to flying for AMO, supplying a demand for more pilots.
“This is my way of giving back after leaving the military and still serving my country,” Cano said. “It’s protecting these borders with this machine, this tool.”
With the recent congressional budget approval of $1.5 billion for border security, agents will soon enjoy even more resources. But whether it will be enough to meet growing demands is yet to be determined.
“We’re flying a lot more than we ever were," Noble said. "And that is going to continue to be pushed throughout the years."