LA SALLE COUNTY, Texas — Human smuggling along the southwest border is reaching record high numbers.
Governor Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star has deployed a force of state troopers along the border highways from Del Rio to the Rio Grande Valley in a mission to crackdown on human smuggling.
One of those crackdowns happened New Years Eve off I-35 in La Salle County.
DPS body cam video shows the moment a man is pulled over and tells the officers there’s no one riding in the utility trailer he’s pulling behind the truck he’s driving.
But, minutes later, troopers make a shocking discovery, 21 migrants hiding in a tight crawl-like space in the trailer.
“It's not very much room, it's like if you're crawling underneath the bed, closed in the dark where there's no ventilation for them,” said DPS Sgt. Juan Maldonado.
Maldonado said troopers are seeing an uptick in human smuggling in South Texas. He said the stop in La Salle County is not out of the ordinary.
“They usually get smuggled to a large city which would be going towards you to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, the big metro cities,” said Maldonado.
He said troopers are also seeing a rise in the criminal element associated with the smuggling.
DPS said the driver carrying those 21 migrants on New Years Eve, is a Mexican Mafia Gang member. Officials did not identify the man, but said he was arrested on smuggling charges in addition to being in possession of a stolen firearm. DPS said the truck he was driving was also stolen.
“The migrants who make this journey north are not ignorant of the dangers. They know how dangerous it is,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington D.C.
She said their mission is to find solutions to the country’s most challenging issues, in this case, the surge in illegal immigration.
“For many of these people, they truly believe that if they stay where they are, they will be killed. Their children will be killed, their family will be killed, they will die,” said Cardinal-Brown. “They have no reason to stay where they are. That's the kind of desperation that drives them north.”
Cardinal-Brown said the real problems are with the current immigration policies.
She said most migrants aren’t able to get work visas and are rarely granted asylum.
“We have made it so difficult for people to try to come legally that this is the last chance remaining to them,” said Cardinal-Brown. “They're going to keep coming and they will keep trying, and they will keep trying to find ways to come in until they succeed, because that's the desperation they have.”