Illegal border crossings get even riskier
Since 9/11, immigrants have been more desperate to find routes, falling prey to unscrupulous smugglers.
Lying atop a mountain of boxes inside a sweltering tractor-trailer his face just inches from the ceiling Luciano Alcocer said one final prayer before slipping into unconsciousness.Skip to next paragraph
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"I just kept thinking about my family in Mexico. Finally, I said, 'God, I'm in your hands now,' " says Mr. Alcocer from his temporary home in Dallas. The next thing the illegal immigrant remembers is the rush of air when the trailer doors were flung open more than 12 hours after the harrowing ordeal began in West Texas.
Of more than 40 immigrants inside the unventilated trailer, two died two more in a long summer of deaths along the USMexico border.
As the border has become ever more tightly guarded, illegal immigrants are increasingly forced to rely on wily smugglers whose tactics often involve harrowing dangers while offering no guarantee of successful passage.
This summer, because of heightened security along the border since the terrorist attacks, immigrants are becoming more desperate to find ways to cross, and human smugglers are becoming more unscrupulous in their tactics.
"Since 9/11, we have seen a massive increase in the numbers of people paying to be smuggled into the United States," says Robert Fuentes, in charge of the Border Patrol's intelligence unit in Del Rio, Texas. "The fear of being apprehended is greater because of the influx of security and posturing on both the northern and southern border."
In fact, while the number of immigrant apprehensions is down by 28 percent over last year (translating into fewer attempted crossings), the number of rescues by the Border Patrol is up by 42 percent suggesting that this summer has indeed been more dangerous.
And in some states, such as Arizona, it's been more deadly. Since January, there have been 141 immigrant deaths in Arizona with the majority occurring in the summer months. There were just 102 in all of 2001.
The causes range from suffocation in trucks to heat exhaustion and dehydration in the desert. "The number of deaths in our sector are at an all-time high," says Robin Hoover, pastor of the First Christian Church in Tucson and president of Humane Borders, a relief organization that sets up water stations in the desert. "What is different is that the migrants, smugglers, and guides are moving farther west."
Farther west into the desert where there are fewer Border Patrol agents and less surveillance. Experts say smugglers or coyotes are having to find more remote, dangerous routes to remain undetected, but it also makes rescue attempts more difficult.
"These smugglers couldn't care less about human life. It's become big business," says Mario Villarreal with the Border Patrol in Washington. "The smuggling of human cargo now rivals that of drug smuggling."
For example, says Mr. Villarreal, smuggling fees in the 1980s and early '90s were between $50 and $100 a person. Now, coyotes are charging $1,000 to $2,000 a person. But with this fee increase has come little added benefit.