Running more than 1,200-miles across our state's southern border with Mexico, the Rio Grande is the first line of defense for law enforcement protecting the Texas border.
"The Texas doctrine is you don't secure the border from Austin, you secure it at the river," said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. "You get right in the cartel's face."
The cartels use the river to sneak people and drugs into the United States.
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"There's nothing that crosses that river – cocaine, meth, heroin or people – that isn't treated like a commodity," McCraw added.
Texas State Troopers patrol the river in boats, protected by Kevlar panels and armed with 30-caliber machine guns.
They're intimidating, though critics call them excessive.
"They're obviously not from Texas if they think it's overkill," McCraw said. "Since we've been operating around the clock 24/7, as we do with those boats, nobody from Mexico has shot at us, and that's the whole point. We don't want to use it. We're not doing it to shoot at people; we're doing it to not get shot at."
Along with McCraw and Texas Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who chairs the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs & Border Security, NBC 5 toured the river to see how Texas tax dollars are being used.
"We fund the missions that they bring to us," Campbell said. "Is there something we can do more? I'm leaving that up to the teams that have the experts, but what I can say is that we can't back away, and I think the legislature knows that."
Since 2005, Texas has spent nearly $1.7 billion on border security; roughly $400 million will be spent this year alone.
"It's unfortunate that the state government has to come in and secure the border where the federal government won't. I know that's not very popular among certain circles, but it's true," said Chris Cabrera, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council.
Without our state's help, Cabrera claims the border "would probably be a lot more lawless than it is right now."
Our tax dollars are also used in the air. Texas State Troopers monitor the border in helicopters and work closely with agents on the ground when something suspicious is spotted.
"We can't afford to step back and let the border be porous," Campbell added.
Technology plays a big role in securing our Southern border, where the state has hidden thousands of game cameras, valued at about $300 each, in trees.
Once a camera is tripped, the GPS coordinates are sent to every trooper and agent on duty.
"There's not enough Border Patrol agents, Texas State Troopers, Texas Rangers, special agents or police officers in Texas to secure the Texas-Mexico border without leveraging technology," McCraw said. "You don't have to go out and spend $100 billion on technology. You can find things that the private sector has developed and leverage those things and build a network."
Undocumented immigrant traffic in the Rio Grande Valley is trending downward. Border Patrol statistics show in 2014, there were 256,393 people were caught. The same report shows 186,830 people were apprehended in 2016, but since January, when President Donald Trump took office, the numbers have dropped significantly in the same region.
"In January we had a little under 10,000 apprehensions. In February, cut that in half to just about 4,000, and in March we were under 2,000," said Cabrera. "And this is traditionally the busiest time of the year for the Border Patrol. This is when most people are coming back from Mexico or some of the more southern countries to work the fields."
"Nothing changed in Central America, nothing changed in Mexico," McCraw points out.
The only thing that's changed in Texas is lawmakers have dedicated more money to fight the problem.
"As we secure Texas, we're securing America," Campbell said. "It's very evident the funds are not wasted. They're being used efficiently."
INTERACTIVE: NBC 5's media partners at The Dallas Morning News created a special interactive feature on the Borderland Project. You can explore the border as it cuts across New Mexico and Texas, read stories and watch coverage of border issues along the way. Find it here on The Dallas Morning News.