Illegal smuggling cases difficult to prosecute; Migrant victims often fear retribution

On May 6, an estimated 100 smuggled migrants were discovered inside a broken-down trailer in the tiny Jackson County town of Ganado.

Sixty-one migrants were detained, and dozens more made a run for it through cornfields.

Two of the migrants showed up about a mile down the road at Bart Hajobsky’s home, dehydrated after a stalled journey.

Just two months after the incident, Hajobsky looks back on the situation with concern for those who showed up on his property as well as others who go through the same experience.

“Humanity, you can’t treat humans like that,” said Hajobsky.

Fortunately, in this case, no one died.

However, over a month later in San Antonio, the deadliest migrant smuggling case in U.S. History.

Fifty-three dead after a truck broke down in scorching heat.

“It’s a risk from the moment they leave their doorsteps,” said Hipolito Acosta, a thirty-year veteran of the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

Acosta got his start as a border patrol agent in Marfa before transitioning to undercover work. Acosta, an author of three books on smuggling, understands what it is like to cross into the United States,.

“I’ve been smuggled seven [or] eight times into the United States,” said Acosta, who on one occasion had to convince law enforcement he was part of an undercover operation.

When asked what it was like in the back of a trailer, Acosta said, “Scary. Some hopelessness but yet a lot of hope that you make it to your destination because you have that dream.”

For only 25 minutes, and with temperatures hitting 102 degrees, KPRC 2 Investigates went for a ride in an empty trailer with a team standing by to assist.

The sounds during the journey were intimidating but we also knew that we would be safe in a familiar destination unlike what usually happens.

“When you get into the back of a tractor-trailer and you are herded in like cattle, you have no idea when you might get out. Your life depends on that driver recognizing that you are at risk, that you are in danger,” said Acosta.

Former Federal Prosecutor Michael Wynne had a case in Iowa twenty years ago where he says the scene was like a horror movie.

“Eleven migrants were found essentially mummified in a grain hopper a railroad car six months after the incident,” said Wynne.

Wynne says for the Department of Justice, these are complex and difficult cases to prosecute.

“Those who made it are key to explaining who the coyotes were, but those who made it to the United States certainly don’t want to give up how they got here and then who they paid,” said Wynne. “They’re afraid that they are going to get caught.”

There also is the fear of retribution as smuggling operations have deep cartel ties and the message before the ride is clear according to Acosta, “They’re also told if you do testify, and you do rat us out, there are consequences to be paid.”

Acosta believes a solution to saving lives is better enforcement along with penalties for companies who are not federally compliant when hiring undocumented immigrants.


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