MCALLEN, Texas (KETK) – Smuggling migrants over the border is a job based on threats, exploitation and life on the run.

A retired drug and human smuggler who is now living in East Texas agreed to give an interview and chose to keep her identity hidden.

“The gentleman would always look for me, hunt me down and threaten me, threaten my family if I didn’t do what he said,” she said.

That blunt manipulation started a nearly 30-year job for her.

“I’m tired of living that life, I’m tired of going to prison. I’m tired of not seeing my young children,” she said.

She was a pawn used in the Mexican drug cartel’s ploys, smuggling deadly substances into the U.S. while taking advantage of fearful migrants for monetary gain.

The large number of crossings, she said, is merely a tool of distraction.

“The illegals are coming and it’s making the drugs come in even more because the Border Patrol is more focused on the illegals coming in rather than the actual drugs,” she said.

The cartel pursuaded asylum seekers to take extreme measures to touch U.S. ground.

East Texan Jeff Kennemer is no stranger to smugglers, as a former agent of the DEA for 25 years.

“Literally dying to get across, to get into the country,” Kennemer said. “They’ll waive the fee to be smuggled into the country if they’ll bring drugs with them. That’s their way into the United States.”

Kennemer witnessed firsthand criminal activity spearheaded by violent gangs neighboring the Lone Star State. After a wild career of pursuits, run-ins with the cartel and weapons turned against him, he retired his badge in summer of 2021.

“There is a serious drug problem here just like there has been for many, many years and it is not getting any better,” Kennemer said.

It’s a problem Rusk County Sheriff Johnwayne Valdez is too familiar with. Last year, his office made over 100 meth arrests.

The low price of methamphetamine is the main culprit to what he calls the war on drugs.

“It’s so cheap now that even the dope dealers that are larger scale don’t even have to keep that much on them anymore because there is just so much of it here,” Valdez said.

It’s not just the basics. The smuggler said that in the past, it was coke or weed or heroin, but now it is man-made drugs like meth.

“Now, it’s meth and fentanyl that’s coming into the country,” Kennemer said. “We’re talking about a game-changer with the quantity and the quality of the horrible drugs that are coming into our country.”

At Texas borders, fentanyl seizures spiked from 192 lbs. in 2020 to 1,186 lbs. in 2021. So far this year, 145 lbs. of fentanyl have been confiscated by Border Patrol, just 47 lbs. away from reaching the total for all of 2020.

In an effort to crack down on the deadly abuse, Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 768 into law, which upped the penalties for making and smuggling fentanyl into the U.S.

Abbott said the number of apprehensions in 2021 “is more than enough to kill every man, woman, and child in the states of Texas, California and New York.”

This is a problem East Texas law enforcement said hits us directly at home.

“It lands in Dallas, and from Dallas, it comes right to Tyler,” said Kennemer. “So I would say Dallas is a hub, Houston is a hub, and of course, it all flows right through here.”

All it takes is eight hours for these drugs to land in the hands of East Texans traveling through Highway 59 and Interstate 20.

Many say an addiction crisis is to blame, with customers within our own borders looking to satisfy their cravings for these deadly drugs.

“It’s never going to stop, no matter what you’re going to do,” the smuggler told KETK. “Through the air, through the land, through water– it’s never going to stop.”