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Operation against human trafficking rescues 26 people and arrests 7 suspects in Texas

Authorities in South Texas say they have dismantled a human smuggling operation. The action rescued 26 people – 11 of whom are hospitalized – and seven suspects were taken into custody.

The rescued people faced “miserable conditions” during the journey to the location where they were found, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said at a press conference held on Thursday afternoon (6).

Authorities cannot say when, where, or how long ago the group crossed the border with Mexico and entered the United States. Still, they believe that the victims were transported inside a false compartment of a truck for at least three hours.

Before that, they were taken to a house with no air conditioning, no water and where buckets were believed to be used as toilets.

“We still don’t know if these people crossed the border this morning or if they were already here in a safe house in another part of the state on this side of the border,” Salazar said.

“[Também] We don’t know if they were trafficked against their will,” he added.

Investigators believe the residence where the victims were located was once the site of animal fighting, according to the sheriff.

“The conditions are miserable and it is scorching hot. Fortunately, we managed to find these people before they passed away”, Salazar told reporters, near the house.

The group includes an 18-year-old woman, who authorities believe to be the youngest of the victims, and another from Guatemala, who paid about US$16,000 (R$85,000) to get there, Salazar said.

The countries of origin of the rest of the group are still unknown, according to the sheriff.

The victims taken to the hospital had heat-related injuries and other minor injuries, the sheriff said. Temperatures in San Antonio, the capital of Bexar County, reached at least 38°C on Thursday (6).

“But again, the blame lies with the bloodthirsty organizations that arrest these people and put them in danger,” he added.

Salazar’s press conference comes two days after President Joe Biden announced new executive action that bans immigrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border from seeking asylum when a daily limit of illegal crossings is reached, the unless these people fall within certain exemptions.

The measure, which came into force on Wednesday (5), faced criticism from progressives and other sectors who said it was similar to measures taken under former President Donald Trump.

Understand the operation in Texas

Bexar County authorities received information Thursday morning that a human trafficking operation was underway.

Security forces then discovered that the alleged smugglers were transporting a group of people in a “long gooseneck trailer,” which agents began monitoring, according to Salazar.

The group of more than two dozen people was lying on a hard mesh inside a “large false compartment”, exposed to the outside for several hours and without access to water, according to Salazar.

The vehicle ended up entering the house where the victims were taken.

“That trailer… you could be next to it and not know it had 26 people in it. So he passed thousands of cars with ease”, commented the sheriff.

Salazar highlighted that the detained suspects were involved in the human trafficking operation and referred to them as “coyotes”, a term commonly used to designate human smugglers.

According to the sheriff, more arrests are possible as the investigation continues.

Authorities found bulletproof vests and long rifles in a rear residence, assessing that the incident appears to be part of a larger operation “that has been going on for some time.”

Local and federal agencies, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, are assisting in the investigation, he added.

The sheriff also recalled that when police officers first arrived at the house where the group was being held, some people ran away, but he believes they were all located.

“Now there could be someone hiding in the bushes somewhere who got away. We ask residents in the area to keep their doors closed, although we don’t think anyone is on the loose, it’s always possible, so if you see any suspicious activity, anyone suspicious, please call us,” he concluded.

Source: CNN Brasil

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