Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of several travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease, human smugglers continue to place migrants in harm’s way. Commercial tractor-trailers are the conveyance of choice to smuggle large numbers of people into the United States.
The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley (RGV) and Laredo (LRT) sectors in Texas have traditionally been the hot spot for tractor-trailers loaded with migrants. In fiscal year 2020 through August, these two sectors have seen more than 226 tractor-trailer cases, with 3,740 individuals discovered concealed in these dangerous and life threatening conditions. Just for LRT this represents a 37 percent increase from the same period in fiscal year 2019.
In the midst of COVID-19 spread, ruthless human smugglers continue to expose migrants to the deadly virus by forcing them to travel inside crowded trailers, with no ventilation, no water and no food for hours, even days. The tractor-trailer is the final trap of their 1,600 mile treacherous journey from Central America to the United States.
“Smugglers are unscrupulous criminals and will stop at nothing to enrich their pockets, even if it involves locking human beings in trailers intended for animals,” said Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark A. Morgan. “They treat illegal aliens as a commodity, inhumanely holding them captive in overcrowded stash houses with limited access to food and water.”
In a video testimonial previously released, a young Central American mother, whose identity is protected, describes her frightening experience, “you suffer a lot, and you encounter people that try to sexually abuse you. Sometimes you travel in tractor-trailer boxes unable to breathe. At the end of it all, nothing was like they say it would be.”
She is an anonymous voice of thousands of Central American migrants, including unaccompanied children, who in recent years have endured a myriad of atrocities, sexual abuse, extortion, assault, kidnapping and exploitation in the hands of coyotes or human smugglers.
Smugglers may demand from $6,000 to upwards of $12,000 per person to smuggle individuals into the United States via tractor-trailers. Beyond the financial losses that migrants will never recover, entrusting a smuggler comes with the potential cost of their lives. Never has that been truer than during the global pandemic.
These smugglers often pack their human cargo into dangerously hot, crowded trailers and typically with no means of escape. Border Patrol agents often find human remains or encounter lost migrants who are ill, injured, or abandoned by smugglers who are backed by cartels and other criminal enterprises. These smuggling tactics increase the risk of COVID-19 infection among aliens and others.
“Migrants should never risk their lives or waste their life savings by paying their hard-earned money to smugglers who have no regard for human life by attempting the long and dangerous journey to the U.S.,” said Rodney Scott, Chief of the United States Border Patrol.