COVID-19 Spread Doesn’t Slow Down Human Smugglers

WASHINGTON – Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of several CBP policies and 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. These two sectors have seen more than 40 tractor-trailer cases since March 21, when COVID policies were put in place.

“The risk posed by these tractor-trailer loads increases dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent weeks, our agents have discovered more than 360 people concealed in these dangerous and life threating conditions,” said Rodney Scott, Chief of the United States Border Patrol, referring to the number of migrants encountered by RGV and LRT agents in tractor-trailer cases since March 21.

Smugglers may demand from $6,000 to upwards of $12,000 per person to smuggle individuals into the United States via tractor-trailers. The journey is not only expensive from a financial standpoint, but it has the potential to cost them their lives. In a particularly notorious example of a failed tractor-trailer smuggling attempt in July 2017, authorities discovered more than 100 migrants crowded into a trailer in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas. Ten people died and another 39 were hospitalized for dehydration. The driver was sentenced to life in prison.

More recently, on May 11, Border Patrol agents encountered 49 aliens concealed in a tractor-trailer at the Interstate 35 checkpoint north of Laredo, Texas. At the time of the encounter, the trailer was locked, and the passengers had no safety restraints and no means of escape. “This smuggling tactic is putting lives at risk—the lives of the migrants, our agents, and the American public—all for the sake of profit,” Chief Scott said.

Migrants attempting the dangerous journey to illegally enter the United States often travel without access to proper medical care and personal protective equipment to protect themselves and others, all while traveling through multiple countries before reaching the United States. The smugglers often force the migrants into cramped compartments and unsanitary stash houses along the journey.

To combat this trend, Border Patrol is leveraging its intelligence gathering and investigative capabilities, which includes working with partner agencies around the country and world. Together these efforts keep our nation safe by identifying, prosecuting, and dismantling the criminal organizations and networks who endanger the lives of so many through human smuggling.

“The U.S. Border Patrol continues to do our part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 into the United States, while remaining focused on our vital national security mission,” Chief Scott emphasized.

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