Cargo truck
As border security increases, smugglers look for more creative ways to traffic humans across the borders. A popular method turned out to be cargo trucks. Sander Yigin/Unsplash

NEW YORK CITY - As border security increases while immigration becomes a higher focal point in the country's political conversation, migrants are looking for different ways to reach the U.S. without facing authorities' crackdown.

One of the new methods, according to a new investigative report by Noticias Telemundo and other news organizations, turned out to be cargo trucks, a practice that has increased in popularity across the years.

Noticias Telemundo and the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP), along with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Bellingcat, reported on the story for seven months.

Through official statements by federal agencies, news reports and more, the consortium created a database based on more than 170 trucks that got into an accident, were detained or abandoned between 2018 and 2023, to get a better picture of how these smugglers operate.

They found that almost 19,000 migrants have traveled in these containers, including around 3,200 minors. Telemundo believes, however, that these figures could be a major underestimation.

Yanira Chavez Santos was one of the interviewees for the report. She said that in 2019, as she closed the door in her house in Armenia, a little town in Honduras, she paid $5,000 to a "coyote"— the popular name for migrant smugglers— who promised to take her and her two children to the U.S. Once they eventually got to the U.S., they would have to pay another smuggler the same amount again.

From San Pedro Sula, Honduras, they traveled by bus to the Guatemalan border with Mexico, where they crossed by boat. Once in Mexico, they were taken to Villahermosa, where they were promised to catch a plane. Instead, they got their belongings taken away and put in a cargo truck.

"We said: 'we're not going'," Chavez says, "but once you're there it doesn't depend on you: you just have to go because if you don't, the threat is that they will give us to the cartels."

The family would eventually travel for four days in the truck, which held more than 100 people, with little food, water or space to take care of their needs. They would also stop only three times across those days.

Chavez and her family survived the trip, but according to Telemundo, at least 111 migrants that have traveled in these trucks have died in the past six months, most of them passing away by suffocation, lack of oxygen, heat, or even road accidents.

In Mexico, trafficking undocumented migrants is a federal crime and it can be investigated by state and federal authorities, according to Noticias Telemundo.

Nevertheless, Coyotes often face little repercussions in the country, with only 35 convictions for human trafficking between 2016 and 2023. Similarly, Veracruz, one of the states with the largest trafficking rates and where more deaths are registered, only opened three investigations of human trafficking aboard these vehicles.

At the other side of the border, Noticias Telemundo reports that the American government is well aware of human and drug trafficking across the border.

"The same groups that are in charge of drug trafficking are also operating the issue of passing people. They are making money on both sides with it," said Jason Owens, U.S. Border Patrol chief.

In recent years, the U.S. government has also tried to pressure the Mexican government to stop the flow of migrants across the territory.

In November 2023, for example, President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged to work side-by-side to confront illicit fentanyl trafficking into the U.S. and to manage the growing number of migrants traveling north to the border between their nations.

"Nothing is beyond our reach in my view if Mexico and the United States stand together and work together," Biden said back in November.

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