As COVID-19 ravages Latin America—especially Mexico—a record number of illegal immigrants are being smuggled into the United States through the southern border in commercial tractor-trailers. Human smugglers cram the migrants, mostly from Central America, in large trailers with no ventilation, water or food for days, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. “The tractor-trailer is the final trap of their 1,600 mile treacherous journey from Central America to the United States,” the agency writes in a statement issued this month. “Migrants are exposed to these dangers by smugglers who know the life-threatening journey will be in vain given increased border enforcement and partnerships with affected governments.”
The frontline Homeland Security agency says two Texas border crossings that are typically hot spots for tractor-trailers loaded with migrants have seen a 37% increase this fiscal year. The sectors, Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, have intercepted more than 226 tractor-trailer cases through August with 3,740 illegal immigrants packed in “dangerous and life threating conditions.” Federal authorities estimate that travel restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 have made commercial tractor-trailers the “conveyance of choice to smuggle large numbers of people into the United States.” Smugglers usually charge each person between $6,000 and $12,000 to make the life-threatening journey in a jam-packed trailer, according to the Border Patrol. “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 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.”
Federal agents often find human remains or encounter lost migrants abandoned by smugglers when they become sick or injured. Smuggling operations are run by drug cartels and other criminal enterprises, federal authorities assure. They undoubtedly increase the risk of COVID-19 infection among illegal aliens and those charged with processing them, the Border Patrol points out. The agency provides a gripping video testimonial of a young Central American mother who describes the horrific conditions in tractor-trailer boxes where breathing is difficult and sexual abuse rampant. Though her identity is protected, Homeland Security officials say the woman is the voice of thousands of Central American migrants, including unaccompanied children that have endured a “myriad of atrocities,” including sexual abuse, assault and kidnapping by the criminals they pay to bring them to the U.S.
The Border Patrol also provides a grisly photo of a livestock trailer loaded with illegal immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The large pickup truck pulling the trailer was stopped at the Laredo crossing with 37 individuals locked inside “with no means of escape.” The dehumanizing picture shows some of the migrants’ arms hanging out of the top rails of a vehicle designed to transport animals. Others are captured trying to peek through the thin cracks. Two other photos capture a bust of 66 individuals jammed inside the trailer and cabin of a big rig and another with 35 illegal aliens. In a message to those considering a tractor-trailer odyssey north, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warns not to trust human smugglers. “Do not endanger your lives and the lives of your loved ones by embarking on the dangerous journey to the United States in vain.” Based on the evidence gathered by his agency, Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott assures that smugglers “have no regard for human life.”
The newly released stats are particularly alarming considering that Latin America leads the world in COVID-19 cases, according to an international news conglomerate that reports a surge of infections in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Argentina. The United Nations calls Latin America a hotspot of the COVID-19 pandemic, “exacerbated by weak social protection, fragmented health systems and profound inequalities.” Other reports describe Latin America as a COVID-19 nightmare and the world’s hardest hit region. The U.S. government considers COVID-19 risk in Mexico to be high and has issued a warning to American travelers of “increased risk for severe illness.”