TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Federal officials say the discovery of nine immigrants who were locked inside the cargo area of a rental truck at a Border Patrol checkpoint in southern Arizona highlights the dangers of human smuggling.
Customs and Border Protection says the incident Thursday at a checkpoint on Interstate 19 near Amado was a potentially deadly smuggling attempt because of summer heat and because there was no source or fresh air or means of escape.
“Transporting people inside the cargo area of a vehicle is extremely dangerous due to heat, the possibility of a vehicle accident, or other unforeseen circumstances,” the agency said in a statement.
The discovery came two days after agents in San Diego found two immigrants being smuggled in the trunk of a car through a border crossing. The two Mexican men, ages 28 and 20, were not breathing and were pronounced dead at a local hospital. Their suspected smuggler told authorities he had been paid $3,500 to bring the men to the U.S.
In Arizona, the seven men, one woman and a teenage boy had been loaded into the U-Haul in Nogales, which is about a 20-minute drive from the checkpoint where they were discovered. Agents did not check the temperature inside the truck, but they said it was about 90 degrees that day.
Agents became suspicious of the driver and the passenger, who claimed to not have a key for the padlock on the cargo area’s door. Agents used a truck with an X-ray machine to spot the immigrants, all of whom were Mexican.
The incident was a reminder of the dangers immigrants face when being smuggled into the country.
Last summer, an immigrant died in the back of a rental truck and eight others suffered from heat exhaustion while being smuggled through Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak about 40 miles north of Tucson. Authorities arrested five people suspected of smuggling the immigrants from Douglas, Arizona. The group was headed to Phoenix.
Many others have died in car accidents while being smuggled.
An SUV carrying 11 immigrants hit a wall and rolled while the driver tried fleeing border agents who were trying to stop them near Casa Grande, Arizona, in May 2012. Four were killed and seven injured in the crash. The Dodge Durango had been one of two cars traveling through a popular smuggling corridor when agents tried to stop them.
A very similar incident took place in Texas in October 2012, when four immigrants died and seven were hurt after a van carrying them tried to evade a Border Patrol vehicle and wrecked near a sugarcane field south of Donna, Texas. Border agents saw the van loaded up near the Rio Grande, authorities said. The driver also spotted the agents and fled before they could even try to stop the van.
In an especially brutal case in 2003, 18 of about 100 people being smuggled in a truck trailer in south Texas died of heat-related injuries. That included a 7-year-old boy.