New x-ray tech now used at Texas border to fight drug, human smuggling crisis

Thousands of vehicles travel in and out of Texas every day on bridges known as ports of entry, and finding and stopping the smuggling of drugs and migrants is a slow process. A new x-ray scanner is expected to change that.

"It's an unstoppable tool. It truly, truly is," said Mike Tamez.

Mike Tamez is with the Nueces County DA's Office Criminal Interdiction Unit. He is also helping train border agents on how use a new x-ray called the Osprey. 

Federal officials started testing the scanners last year at several Texas ports of entry. Vehicles drive over scanners in the roadway, and that is a difference maker. 

"I was teaching at the bridge in the Rio Grande City last week, and it's why I found a compartment in vehicle. It was underneath the car, and it was in the fuel evaporator system canister. I don't know what that is, but it's part of the fuel emissions system. They're hollowed one out, cut the seam off, fit and complete, hollowed it out and resealed it when I thought it was empty. But I asked. I asked one of the customs officers there, who deals with x-rays if they had seen this with their x-ray going, you know, shooting downward. And he said, absolutely not. This is too much to get through the seats, the flooring, suitcases, people. So there's a lot to go shoot through to get to that point. But with this technology, it's going to make it 100% visible," said Tamez.

The system is made by a Boston-based company called Viken and a larger roll-out started in January. Viken also has hand held scanners that are being used to search vehicles. 

Company executives in recent interviews claim the devices make a difference.

"You know, we've gotten millions of dollars off the streets tons of drugs off the street," said Jim Ryan in a San Antonio interview about Viken’s products.

More scanners could be coming. In the new federal budget proposed by the Biden Administration there's $535 million for new technology at and between ports of entry. 

Another $40 million would go to programs to combat fentanyl trafficking and disrupt criminal organizations. It’s the kind of action supported by three local moms who recently lost son's to fentanyl overdoses.

"And if we know where it's coming from, we know the source. Like, maybe it's not go and bomb the cartel. Maybe we just arm our border with the correct, you know, efforts to stop the fentanyl. Like, we have to be more protective of our nation. Yeah, we are being attacked right now daily," said Stefanie Turner from Leander.

Under the current contact, the Viken osprey scanners are only in a third of the border port of entry traffic lanes. Expanding that number will be determined by the final budget approved by congress.