Immigration authorities are investigating whether the 17 undocumented immigrants rescued Sunday from a hot trailer in South Texas were being smuggled by a larger criminal organization operating at the border.
Minutes before noon Sunday, Ramiro Provencio arrived at the Flying J gas station in Edinburg, Texas, where he says a man and a woman with a Cuban accent approached him in the parking lot, asking if he knew of a mechanic who could fix their reefer, which is the refrigerating unit of the trailer.
“I guess they give them some air conditioning or something like that,” Provencio said. “I was just waiting to see if any truck driver needed any services getting their truck washed.”
Provencio witnessed the moment that Edinburg police rescued 17 undocumented immigrants after a tipster from Mexico told dispatchers that a relative was trapped inside a hot trailer.
The couple who approached Provencio was detained and identified as the drivers.
Provencio, 18, makes a living by washing trailers at truck stops. He says that he knows how hot the trailers can get under the Texas’s 100-degree weather.
“When I do the trailer washouts, and that’s with the door open, it’s still real hot in there,” he described.
This is the third smuggling case in the same area reported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since the San Antonio hot truck incident three weeks ago where 10 people died and 29 others were hospitalized.
ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan responded to this latest incident with a written statement:
“In just a few weeks since the tragedy in San Antonio that claimed the lives of 10 aliens during their transport in a tractor trailer by a criminal smuggling operation, we’ve seen three more of these cases in the same area. While additional loss of life has been avoided thus far, these cases underscore the urgent need to remove pull factors like sanctuary policies that only perpetuate the vicious human smuggling cycle. We will not let up in our efforts to disrupt and dismantle the illicit pathways used by transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling facilitators.”
All 17 undocumented immigrants who hailed from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and even Romania, were treated at the scene and did not need medical attention.
ICE has yet to charge anyone with a crime as investigators continue to work leads and look into a possibly larger criminal network at play.
Federal authorities encourage the public to report suspected human smuggling activities through the anonymous tips line at 1-866-347-2423.