An inside look at human smuggling at the border

A look inside human trafficking at the southern U.S. border. (CNN)
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 4:48 PM EDT
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(CNN) – A jaw-dropping number is at the heart of the nation’s immigration crisis.

For the first time, there have been more than 2 million arrests at the southern border in one year.

Over 200,000 apprehensions were made in August alone, and almost a quarter of those involved people who have attempted to cross more than once.

Many of those crossing the border are doing it in dangerous and life-threatening ways.

Examples of human smuggling have made the news in the last decade, with images and video of dozens of people packed in trucks and vehicles.

A recent scene unfolded in June, where 53 people died in San Antonio in a tractor trailer.

Craig Larrabee is the acting special agent in charge with Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, the arm of DHS that investigates human smuggling.

“That was the worst smuggling disaster in U.S. history,” Larrabee said.

He also said migrants have more to fear than death.

“The extortion, the assaults, physical assault, sexual assault, they’re real,” Larrabee said.

The special agent said human smuggling has changed in the last decade, from small family businesses that charged $2,000 per migrant to multi-national criminal organizations that charge $10,000 and make billions of dollars a year.

“So, maybe a vehicle had 50 bodies in it years and years ago,” Larrabee said. “They’ll put 150 bodies in that vehicle.”

Larrabee debunked the myth that migrants are usually smuggled into the U.S. on tractor trailers.

“They’re smuggled across the country on foot, that’s generally speaking,” he said.

Migrants are taken to so-called stash houses, once in the U.S.

Lt. Aaron Moreno with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office said he’s seen 70 people in a little apartment.

The sheriff’s office dismantled a stash house last year where smugglers attempted to hide 37 people inside.

From the stash houses, migrants are packed in travel trailers.

In the trunks of cars, tool boxes, vans and other vehicles that are sometimes locked shut and have to be pried open by law enforcement.

The drivers sometimes get thousands of dollars per migrant, according to TikTok videos used by the Mexican cartels and provided to CNN by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The cartels pay drivers so much because the drivers have to get past checkpoints at the border in south Texas.

Smugglers will try to avoid the checkpoints by guiding migrants through tough terrain. The migrants that can keep up continue north. The ones who can’t are left behind, sometimes to die.

Migrant deaths so far this year have already reached 750, already exceeding last year’s total of 557.

The alleged driver in the deadly June tractor trailer tragedy in San Antonio apparently went through a checkpoint near Laredo.

He has not pleaded guilty, and it’s unclear if the migrants were already onboard.

While Larrabee said a lot has changed in the business of human smuggling, one thing is constant: he said smugglers have no regard for human life.

In April, the Biden Administration launched an effort to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling organizations. So far, nearly 5,000 individuals have been arrested in the U.S. and across the region.

In September, eight individuals were arrested, and they allegedly smuggled hundreds if not thousands of people in brutal conditions.