Smuggling deaths remembered a year later
BYLINE: By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press Writer
On the gritty floor inside a stifling hot tractor trailer, a father draped his arm around his 5-year-old son's back to offer protection and comfort.
It's how their bodies were found a year ago Friday in what became the nation's deadliest smuggling attempt.
"His father so desperately wanted him to be here, to have the opportunities of this nation, things you and I take for granted every day of our life," U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby said. "This little boy was killed in the most vile way you can die. He did not die a gentle death."
Seventeen illegal immigrants were found dead May 14, 2003, in the trailer abandoned at a truck stop in Victoria, between Houston and Corpus Christi. Two others later died. They were among 70 immigrants from Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic who were being shuttled from the border to Houston.
Shelby's office is preparing for three trials between now and January related to the deaths. The first begins Monday.
Meanwhile, immigrant rights groups planned to mark the anniversary Friday by laying a wreath at the truck stop and holding a memorial Mass in Houston.
"The deaths have to be honored by saying we need (solutions) that address the root causes of immigration," said Arnoldo Garcia, a spokesman for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights based in Oakland, Calif.
The immigrants, including the 5-year-old Mexican boy, died from dehydration, hyperthermia and suffocation. They were packed into the tractor trailer, which had little ventilation, without food and water. Authorities estimated temperatures in the trailer reached as high as 173 degrees.
Deputies found the bodies shortly after 2 a.m. when they responded to a reported disturbance inside a refrigerated trailer. When they opened the trailer, more than 40 immigrants who survived the heat spilled out onto the pavement. Some fled into nearby fields and woods.
Fourteen people were indicted about a month later on various charges of harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. Nine were arrested quickly while the other five remained fugitives for months. Four were later arrested in Mexico and face trial there. The final one was arrested by U.S. officials last month.
Mexican authorities also arrested more than a dozen others involved in the recruiting and smuggling of the immigrants into Mexico from Central and South America.
Three of the defendants arrested in this country have pleaded guilty. Four other suspected members of the smuggling ring, including alleged ring leader Karla Patricia Chavez, are scheduled to be tried in November.
The truck driver, Tyrone Williams, 33, from Schenectady, N.Y., is set for trial in January. He'll be the first smuggler to face the death penalty in this country, Shelby said.
The trial Monday involves Erica Cardenas, who is accused of extorting money for the safe return of a boy whose mother survived the smuggling attempt.
The immigrant survivors were allowed to remain and work in the United States while the trials were pending. Prosecutors are determining which will testify. Shelby said officials later will decide if the immigrants can remain in the United States.
While more law enforcement manpower would be welcome, Shelby said he believes existing laws are sufficient to address the illegal immigration problem, punish smugglers and prevent a repeat of the carnage in Victoria.
Shelby's office prosecuted 6,500 cases this past year, the most among U.S. Justice Department field offices, he said.
Immigrant rights groups, however, believe immigration policy should change to allow easier access into the country or risk more deaths.
"It's a problem of not enough visas, a problem of immigration backlogs," Garcia said.
Peter Nunez, board chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, said as long as there is illegal immigration, deaths like those in Victoria will continue. The solution is better employer sanctions and elimination of benefits that draw people into the country, he said.
"You have to remove the notion that we're a sanctuary and once you get past the Border Patrol you are home free," Nunez said. "Some of these things are pretty draconian, but if you want to stop illegal immigration, that is what you have to do."
Shelby believes educating illegal immigrants about the dangers of smuggling is the only way to prevent a repeat of Victoria.
"It's not some kind of humanitarian effort (smugglers) are engaged in," he said. "This is all about cold, hard cash. And the loss of life is just a part of doing business to these people."
Human cargo Grisly discoveries in stifling trailers
dramatize risks immigrants face.
Byline: David Sedeno; The Dallas Morning News
HUMAN SMUGGLERS weigh light penalties against big rewards in the estimated $5 billion-a-year industry of moving undocumented Mexican workers into the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. . Despite the risks, dramatized by recent deaths in tractor-trailers, millions continue to cross the border each year in search of prosperity. Stepped-up border security by the U.S. has prompted smugglers to charge their clients more.
As 100 undocumented immigrants bolted from the South Texas brush and hurriedly climbed into the back of a white enclosed trailer, little Marco Antonio Villasenor, a black-haired, brown-eyed 5-year-old, took his place among the pack.
He had traveled to the border with his father, 31-year-old Jose Antonio Villasenor, a Mexico City resident. They were on their way to Houston on the night of May 13 with dozens of undocumented immigrants.
When rescue workers found Marco Antonio in the unventilated trailer south of Victoria, Texas, four hours later, the little boy was shirtless and limp in the arms of a shirtless man. Marco Antonio, 3-1/2 feet tall and weighing only 43 pounds, was drenched in Adj. 1. drenched in - abundantly covered or supplied with; often used in combination; "drenched in moonlight"; "moon-drenched meadows"
drenched covered - overlaid or spread or topped with or enclosed within something; sometimes used as a combining form; sweat and bruised from the weight of people crowding around and over him.
And he was dead.
Marco Antonio's death and that of his father and 17 others in the trailer is a reminder of the risks that undocumented immigrants take for jobs and money. So why does it keep happening?
Big money to be made
Officials acknowledge that smugglers' low overhead, huge profits and historically light prison sentences if caught help drive what's estimated to be at least a $5 billion-a-year industry. Increased traffic from the border and chronic staffing shortages prohibit immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important. officials from inspecting each tractor-trailer at checkpoints.
Despite increasing numbers of immigration agents along the southern border during the past decade, immigration experts think about 3 million people cross illegally from Mexico each year.
So despite the flurry of reports of recent deaths in tractor-trailers, many of them loaded with human cargo Human Cargo is a 2004 Canadian television miniseries. The series won seven Gemini Awards and two Directors Guild of Canada Awards. It premiered on CBC Television on January 4, 2004 and starred Kate Nelligan, Cara Pifko, and Nicholas Campbell. get to their destination without problems.
Even as investigators interview the 54 survivors of the Victoria tragedy and funeral homes make arrangements to return the bodies of the victims home to Mexico and Central America Central America, narrow, southernmost region (c.202,200 sq mi/523,698 sq km) of North America, linked to South America at Colombia. It separates the Caribbean from the Pacific. , more undocumented immigrants are making their way into the United States.
A day after the bodies were discovered in Victoria, Border Patrol agents in El Paso El Paso (ĕl pă`sō), city (1990 pop. 515,342), seat of El Paso co., extreme W Tex., on the Rio Grande opposite Juárez, Mex.; inc. 1873. , Texas, intercepted a railroad container with 17 undocumented immigrants inside. On May 16, about four miles east of Victoria, another tractor-trailer carrying 18 immigrants was discovered. All the immigrants were safe and are in the process of being deported.
Lure of jobs hard to overcome
This summer, as in years past, the Mexican government will tell people about the dangers of crossing into the United States, from warnings about bandits and bad canal water on the Mexican side, to vigilantes vigilantes (vĭjĭlăn`tēz), members of a vigilance committee. Such committees were formed in U.S. frontier communities to enforce law and order before a regularly constituted government could be established or have real authority. and unscrupulous smugglers on the U.S. side.
But the thought of being able to earn in one hour what many Mexicans could make in a day will push them to walk through the desert Southwest or climb into railroad containers or into the backs of tractor-trailer rigs that they have been told are air-conditioned, but, in all likelihood, are not.
From San Ysidro, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas Brownsville is the county seat of Cameron County, Texas, United States, the southernmost city in Texas. As of 2005, U.S. Census estimates put Brownsville at a population of 167,493. , and even into the Mexican interior, smugglers numbering in the thousands have created an intricate business and transportation infrastructure that is as complex as it is fluid.
They use disposable cellular telephones and telephone calling cards. They form alliances to maximize profits and use the terrain to their advantage. They employ recruiters, guides, drivers and enforcers. They use multiple safe houses and established transportation networks rail or various forms of ground transportation and find the best means to get their cargoes past Border Patrol checkpoints.
Smugglers' fees have jumped as much as 300 percent in the past decade because of tougher border enforcement, said Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego UCSD is consistently ranked among the top ten public universities for undergraduate education in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. It is a Public Ivy.  For graduate studies, most of UCSD's Ph.D. .
Many smugglers take those fees in advance, so they have nothing to lose if people are arrested or die in the desert or in sealed containers.
Those elements, combined with increased truck traffic from the border and challenges faced by the Border Patrol, also allow the cycle to continue.
"With the increase in trucking throughout the border ... we can't check every truck that comes through the checkpoint," said David Ham, assistant chief of the El Paso Border Patrol. "Until either the lure of jobs in the United States ceases or the economy of Mexico gets better, it's always going to happen."
Smugglers face prison
Last year, federal officials put a major dent in a sophisticated smuggling smuggling, illegal transport across state or national boundaries of goods or persons liable to customs or to prohibition. Smuggling has been carried on in nearly all nations and has occasionally been adopted as an instrument of national policy, as by Great Britain ring based in El Paso that Ham had been investigating for six years.
Two truck drivers in El Paso started out with more than 40 people jammed into an unventilated trailer along with tons of medical supplies. By the time the trip ended 12 hours and 650 miles later in the Collin County town of Anna, two men were dead and a dozen others had to be hospitalized because of heat exhaustion heat exhaustion, condition caused by overexposure to sunlight or another heat source and resulting in dehydration and salt depletion, also known as heat prostration. The symptoms are severe headaches, weakness, dizziness, blurred vision, and sometimes unconsciousness. .
Federal prosecutors researched statutes to seek indictments and pursued maximum punishments for several defendants.
The head of the ring, Ruben Patrick Valdes, 32, of El Paso, was convicted last month of transportation of undocumented immigrants resulting in murder, and faces life in prison.
Five others, including the two truck drivers recruited to take the load of immigrants, have pleaded guilty and face sentences between four years and life in prison.
Trucker recruited by ring
In the South Texas case, as in the El Paso case, the truck driver Tyrone Williams, 32, of Schenectady, N.Y. also was recruited by a smuggling ring. Williams, a legal U.S. resident from Jamaica, said he had met two men in Harlingen, Texas, who had promised him $2,500 to take the immigrants in his empty refrigerated He agreed, and he and a woman named Fatima Holloway loaded up about 100 undocumented immigrants who had been waiting in the brush alongside U.S. Highway 77 north of Harlingen. The refrigeration refrigeration, process for drawing heat from substances to lower their temperature, often for purposes of preservation. Refrigeration in its modern, portable form also depends on insulating materials that are thin yet effective. unit was in use for only a short time thereafter.
During the next four hours, heat and carbon monoxide carbon monoxide, chemical compound, CO, a colorless, odorless, tasteless, extremely poisonous gas that is less dense than air under ordinary conditions. It is very slightly soluble in water and burns in air with a characteristic blue flame, producing carbon dioxide; began filling the container, pushing the oxygen toward the trailer bed. Some of the immigrants tried to tear through the insulated trailer walls, and another man made a desperate call from his cellphone (CELLular telePHONE) The first ubiquitous wireless telephone. Originally analog, all new cellular systems are digital, which has enabled the cellphone to turn into a smartphone that has access to the Internet. looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. help. Others had tried to get Marco Antonio near an opening in the trailer walls to get him fresh air.
When Williams pulled his rig to a halt near a truck stop south of Victoria and opened the trailer doors, he heard screams of help for el ni?o the boy.
He got water for the group, but after seeing bodies, he quickly disconnected the tractor rig from the trailer and drove away, authorities said. Between 30 and 50 undocumented immigrants also are said to have fled and remain unaccounted for.
Williams was arrested in Houston on May 14 and faces federal charges of transportation of undocumented immigrants. Prosecutors could pursue the federal death penalty against him and others who may be implicated
Ordeal a `moment in hell'
The news of the immigrants in Houston evokes troubled memories for Guillermo Gallo, 22, of Mexico, who suffered third-degree burns from the heat of a trailer door while trapped inside during a similar trailer trip to North Texas last July.
Gallo, a taco-stand vendor from the state of Mexico spent several months being treated for his injuries. Like 30 others who survived the harrowing trip last July, he received a temporary visa and work permit but was unable to work for months because of his injuries.
He recently landed a job at a meatpacking meatpacking or meat-processing, wholesale business of buying and slaughtering animals and then processing and distributing their carcasses to retailers. The livestock industry is among the largest in the world. plant and, ironically, found temporary housing next to the southern Dallas truck stop where he and others were dumped off by the truck drivers last year. His work permit expires in August, and he said he would return to Mexico if ordered to do so.
When asked whether he would try again to be smuggled
Butch Ireland / The Associated Press : A crime-lab investigator dusts the exterior of the tractor-trailer rig near Victoria, Texas, while fire-department officials unload one of 19 bodies found inside the sweltering airless trailer. It had been abandoned at a truck stop with a cargo of illegal immigrants locked inside. (0393125172)