Big Rigs Are a Mainstay of Immigrant Smuggling

The deaths of 10 Latinos trapped in an 18-wheeler inferno in San Antonio cast a light on the use of big rigs in immigrant smuggling. But a Border Patrol agents says, “It has been going on certainly throughout the entire 30 years that I’ve been doing this.”

The death of 10 Latino immigrants last week who were trapped inside an 18-wheeler in San Antonio cast a harsh light on a practice known for its cruelty, reports the New York Times. But it also showed that big rigs are an integral part of a highly organized, often effective and remarkably enduring transportation option for the smuggling underworld. Some tractor-trailers are comfortable, with water, ventilation and refrigeration. Others are dangerous and inhumane. Hundreds of migrants every year are caught inside tractor-trailers, but many more go undetected, slipping past the Border Patrol. In June, a Homeland Security task force found 21 people in a tractor-trailer in Laredo, leading to the prosecution of four suspected smugglers. Mexican authorities reported on Saturday that they had rescued 147 Central American migrants, including 48 children, found abandoned in a wilderness area in Veracruz State after a truck carrying them crashed.

“It has been going on certainly throughout the entire 30 years that I’ve been doing this,” said the director of the task force, Paul A. Beeson, a veteran Border Patrol agent. “They use every method of conveyance that they can come up with.” In South Texas, the busiest border and a mostly unfenced one, crossing the Rio Grande is in many ways the easy part. The hardest is getting past the 100-mile-wide zone where Border Patrol traffic checkpoints function as a last line of defense before migrants reach big cities. Undocumented immigrants and the people who profit off smuggling them must decide whether to go around the checkpoints on foot, or go through them in a vehicle.