By Gilda Morales
A first experience with human smuggling affected a large swath of locals two weeks ago during the week of snow, ice and abnormally cold temperatures, that found much of Texas unprepared. None more than multiple groups of South American immigrants who picked the wrong time to attempt to travel across harsh, unforgiving terrain which became a death scene during the below-freezing temperatures. At least six paid for their unfortunate timing with their lives, and many had to be transferred from Culberson Hospital for severe exposure and frostbite.
Border Patrol Agents and Sheriff’s deputies braved the frigid temperatures for almost a week during which their mission changed from rescue to the sad and eerie recovery of bodies frozen in time. Hospital personnel who had never seen, much less treated a single case of exposure and frostbite quickly became experts in dealing with patient upon patient suffering from swollen, purple or blackened fingers and toes which split open when warmed.
All told the same story. Coyotes who reassured them that they could enable their safe crossing but failed to mention the weather they would have to endure. Those who were having trouble keeping up with the group were offered cocaine or meth to help them keep going, or in most cases were simply left behind with a blanket and no food or water. Those that made it to a highway gratefully surrendered to Border Patrol agents or Sheriff’s deputies.
As of Wednesday, deputies were still looking for more bodies in the unforgiving mountains in the area known as Needle Peak and to the east, around Boracho. In between, Sheriff Carrillo, his deputies have been busy with increasingly more brazen organized smuggling in the Van Horn area, with close to 100 immigrants detained and surrendered into Border Patrol Custody in the past two weeks.
Sheriff Carrillo reported that his department received an anonymous tip last Monday afternoon about unusual activity in a house on Highway 90. Deputies responded and after knocking on the door of the house for some time, they were greeted by a group of about 26 immigrants milling about the house believed to belong to a local Van Horn resident who was not at the house at the time. However, upon searching the house further, deputies discovered that the homeowner’s elderly father was in the house and unharmed.
Border Patrol agents soon arrived at the scene and removed the immigrants, who included 6 from Ecuador, 7 from El Salvador, 1 from Guatemala, 4 from Honduras and 8 from Mexico. Per Sheriff Carrillo, none of the group required medical attention, and were expected to be quickly processed and deported back to their country of origin. Carrillo also reported that about two weeks ago, the brother of the woman believed to own the house in question and also lives there, was stopped and found pulling a horse trailer carrying 60 immigrants on Chispas Road also by Needle Peak.
The brother is currently in custody on charges of alleged human smuggling and Sheriff Carrillo divulged that the woman who owns the house is the subject of an ongoing investigation by Homeland Security. Adult protective services is also taking an active role and investigating whether the elderly father was endangered by being exposed to his son’s and daughter’s alleged involvement in the seemingly obvious human trafficking scheme.
Apparently, the local interest in providing transportation and housing to large groups of immigrants stems from the lure of easy money. Per Sheriff Carrillo, the going rate for providing guidance, transportation and housing varies from $3000 to $6000 per person, with a large portion going to the coyotes. However, the “cut” for transporting and housing locally could be extremely profitable and enough to entice locals to risk arrest and potentially being charged with a felony. Sheriff Carrillo stated that his department as well as US Border Patrol have been working extremely hard to not only rescue the victims of human smuggling/trafficking, but to arrest those responsible and profiting from the crime. However, once the arrests take place, the disposition of the smugglers is in the hands of Federal Prosecutors.