In May 2003, 19 migrants were found dead in a sealed tractor-trailer outside a convenience store in southern Victoria County in the deadliest human smuggling incident in the nation’s history.
More than 18 years have passed since that tragedy, and yet human smuggling continues along local highways all too frequently, placing migrants in peril, straining local law enforcement agencies, destroying ranchers’ property and robbing some Crossroads residents of their sense of safety.
This spring, the dangers of these incidents have been impossible to ignore. A pursuit near Hallettsville led to the hospitalization of seven people after a pickup truck crashed into a tree. A bailout near Aloe Elementary in Victoria forced the school to be temporarily locked down. And, tragically, a Honduran woman was found dead along a Goliad County highway, likely abandoned by smugglers transporting her through the area.
The United States used to pride itself on its immigration system. From 1892 to 1924, 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty, a beacon of hope to many would-be Americans.
The current situation along the southern border is a far cry from that. The smuggling we’re seeing on a regular basis endangers migrants, damages ranchers’ property and creates concerns for rural residents while enriching the criminal organizations who transport many migrants across the border.
Blame should not fall on the migrants attempting to enter the United States, many of whom are fleeing desperate circumstances in their home countries.
During a trip to the border in early June, the Advocate spoke to five men who had made the trip from Venezuela to Texas. These men cannot be faulted for wanting to leave a country where they are forced to go weeks without clean drinking water and endure threats from paramilitary forces supporting Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship.
But during that same trip, the Advocate also heard from state and federal officials who said they lack the resources to crack down on smuggling operations run by Mexican cartels and properly enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
In response, Gov. Greg Abbott has deployed 1,000 state troopers to the border and, most recently, announced plans to build Texas’ own border wall.
Officials say sending troopers to the border has helped address the problem, but it comes at a heavy cost to Texas taxpayers and has left local law enforcement agencies even more burdened than before.
Meanwhile, border officials told the Advocate that improved infrastructure, including a wall, would make their jobs easier, but a Texas-funded wall likely faces federal hurdles and is likely to be very costly for state taxpayers.
Ultimately, border security is a federal issue, and the federal government is not doing its job.
This issue is bigger than any one presidential administration. After all, smuggling along the “fatal funnel” that passes through the Crossroads has been a major issue for decades.
President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration reduced monthly border crossings to as low as 17,000 during the pandemic, but it also left migrants in dangerous conditions in Mexico. Meanwhile, back in 2019, during Trump’s time in office, Border Patrol encounters at the southern border reached 144,000 in a single month, almost as high as the levels we’ve seen this spring.
President Joe Biden’s approach, meanwhile, has been naïve. Biden pledged to be more welcoming to migrants, but his policies have created confusion about who is actually allowed to cross the border and done little to diminish the cartels’ role in the process or address how dangerous and damaging smuggling is for both migrants and Texas residents.
In the short term, the federal government needs to step up its presence along the southern border and make it harder for smugglers to operate. This includes more support from Border Patrol agents and more comprehensive border infrastructure.
In the long term, bigger changes are needed to America’s immigration system to provide legitimate opportunities for migrants fleeing difficult circumstances or seeking new opportunities to apply for citizenship legally, so that they’ll have less of an incentive to turn to smugglers for help. And something must be done, probably with the cooperation of the Mexican government, to lessen the cartels’ influence — though this will no doubt present major challenges.
Unfortunately, until then, we’re likely to see more of the same tragedies we’ve seen in the Crossroads since May 14, 2003.