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Migrants were inside tractor-trailer as it passed Border Patrol checkpoint: Cuellar

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 6/29/2022 Anna Giaritelli
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Dozens of migrants who were found inside an abandoned 18-wheeler truck in San Antonio earlier this week had been inside the tractor-trailer when it passed through a U.S. Border Patrol highway checkpoint and were not detected, according to Rep. Henry Cuellar.

Cuellar (D-TX) confirmed what a federal law enforcement official told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday: that the truck had driven up Interstate 35 from Laredo, Texas, and gone through a federal immigration highway checkpoint. He said he had learned that the trailer was packed with people and managed to evade detection, potentially due to how short-staffed the checkpoint is amid the ongoing border crisis.

"[Investigators] feel right now that [the migrants] were there before the checkpoint," Cuellar said in a phone call. "As they went through the checkpoint."


It is unknown at this time if any migrants in the trailer were deceased as it passed through the checkpoint. Had the truck been pulled aside and searched, it is likely that the 51 people who died on the journey would not have perished.

"I wouldn’t blame the agents. I think it's just so many people coming through that people are going to get through," a senior Border Patrol official said in a phone call Tuesday.

It is possible that due to staffing shortages at the checkpoint, agents were unable to give the truck as much attention as is ideal or that law enforcement dogs did not detect people concealed inside the trailer. For example, last September, Border Patrol shut down the checkpoint and ordered all agents to a different region of Texas, leaving the highway unchecked, KGNS reported.

"The Border Patrol in Laredo Sector — 60% of the Border Patrol agents are doing babysitting work, that is, there at the border processing centers. Ten percent of them are doing outreach and administrative work, and only 30% of all the Border Patrol agents are actually doing the checkpoints or the actual border stuff," Cuellar said, adding that the smugglers take advantage of the situation to use it to their advantage.

This particular checkpoint, staffed by agents from the Laredo North Border Patrol station, is the busiest highway checkpoint for commercial trucks out of dozens up and down the U.S.-Mexico border. Cuellar did not point to failures on the part of President Joe Biden or Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) but said he was pushing forward as the vice chairman on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security to boost funding and staffing within border law enforcement agencies.

The committee-approved DHS budget for fiscal year 2023 includes $15.74 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol and other components that manage security and trade at U.S. borders nationwide. It was an $893 million increase from the current year's budget and includes $120 million to hire an additional 1,000 employees for CBP's 60,000-person workforce.

"What else can we do to address and go after the criminal organizations, because the criminal organizations are the ones that are coming out like bandits in the sense that they make so much money, and you can see that. It looks like this truck had mechanical problems, and instead of just running out and opening up the door for migrants, they just took off. They have no regard for human life," Cuellar said.

The proposed budget also includes an extra $10 million for massive X-ray machines at the border, which are able to detect people inside commercial trucks. The dozens of Border Patrol highway checkpoints do not have these machines, making detection of people much harder given how long traffic lines can get if agents were to open up every single vehicle.

Cuellar said highway checkpoints must enhance operations because Monday's incident is not the first time a truck with people hidden inside has made it through this very checkpoint.

"I've tried to put more technology there, expand that checkpoint, but the administration has not been very supportive, because there's some people within the administration that feel that checkpoint carries a negative connotation. And I think that's wrong. And I said, 'Don't look at this as a negative connotation. I mean, it has to do with large numbers of commercial trucks that have to pass through that checkpoint,'" Cuellar said. "If you don't have the right technology, and you're overwhelmed with traffic, then you can understand how something like this could happen."


Whereas migrants in other regions of the border cross illegally and then surrender to agents, many of those crossing near Laredo are placed in homes and detained by the cartels until transportation to their next destination is available, a senior Border Patrol official told the Washington Examiner Tuesday.

Texas's southern region of Laredo is the most popular of Border Patrol's nine southern border regions for human smuggling activities that involve stash houses and tractor-trailers, the official said.


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Tags: Border Crisis, Texas, Human Smuggling, Homeland Security

Original Author: Anna Giaritelli

Original Location: Migrants were inside tractor-trailer as it passed Border Patrol checkpoint: Cuellar


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