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November 21, 2017Laredo, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Value of life lost in human smuggling

Located between Carrizo Springs, Texas, nearby Laredo, and the United States-Mexico border are some of the largest ranches in the Lone Star state.

The massive landscape provides some of the most picturesque images in the country, but in its shadows, some of the most inhumane activities a person can imagine take place, all in the name of human smuggling.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the lead U.S. law enforcement agency responsible for fighting human smuggling and human trafficking. Human smuggling is the importation of illegal aliens into the U.S. via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws. It includes bringing illegal aliens into the U.S., as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in the country illegally.

Illegal aliens risk everything when they come across the border. They have no rights, no freedom and are at the mercy of their smugglers or captors.

“They’re giving up everything once they start the path to the United States from their originating country to the border,” said HSI Eagle Pass Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Alfredo Delgado. “If they are given just one percent of hope that their lives are going to be better, they will cross the border and take that risk and try to cross the border.”

For ASAC Delgado and many other HSI personnel who work along the border, they see the impact of these crimes first hand. Criminals make financial gains on illegal aliens coming into the United States and don’t care about their health or well-being. What some illegal aliens are subjected to are as demonic as one could imagine. Smuggling situations may involve murder, rape, assault, and extortion.

“There’s loss of life due to dehydration, lack of water and other resources,” said HSI Eagle Pass Group Supervisor Charles Kerby. “We’ve seen cases where the illegal aliens have been killed on the border and dumped in the river. Some of these smugglers will put these illegal aliens in very hazardous conditions and not care about their lives whatsoever as long as they get their payment for continuing the smuggling event.”

In May 2014, HSI Eagle Pass responded to a call from the United States Border Patrol (USBP) in Carrizo Springs about a potential kidnapped illegal alien. The call came from a family member who claimed the illegal alien was being held and tortured by captors and were demanding smuggling fees be paid. As HSI Eagle Pass pursued the lead, it determined that Eduardo Rocha, Sr. ordered his accomplices to torture the illegal aliens being held captive in an effort to extort money family members.  They documented an instance where the smugglers raped one captive repeatedly, and tortured another with a hammer, threatening decapitation and mutilation.

Evidence presented during trial revealed that Rocha, Sr. operated his smuggling cell between Carrizo Springs and Piedras Negras, Mexico since at least 2013. Rocha, Sr. claimed to be affiliated with Los Zetas, a transnational Drug Trafficking Organization operating out of Mexico. Members of Rocha, Sr.’s cell used buildings located at Rocha’s Carrizo Springs property to hold the illegal aliens before transport further into the United States. Witnesses testified that Rocha, Sr. held the illegal aliens against their will in an effort to extort more money from family members in the United States. On July, 6, 2016, Rocha, Sr. was sentenced to life in prison for his leadership role in human smuggling.

This case represents the worst in human smuggling. Criminal organizations, such as the one Rocha, Sr. led, move illegal aliens from source and transit countries into the United States in deliberate violation of U.S. immigration law.

“The investigation highlighted the extreme dangers aliens open themselves up to when choosing to enter the U.S. illegally,” said HSI Houston Special Agent Jonathan Bonds. “Beyond the dangers they may face during the physical crossing, the smugglers being paid to smuggle illegal aliens often take advantage of the fact they have no legal status. Smugglers often extort money from these  illegal aliens, and in this case physically tortured and sexually assaulted the very individuals paying the smugglers to help bring them into the U.S.”

According to Kerby, for the illegal aliens who “make it” across the border and are eventually discovered by ICE and CBP officials, some talk about the horrific details of their journey.

One of the biggest tragedies in human smuggling is the suffering illegal aliens go through. Many get sick from drinking bacteria-filled water or are lost along the way. After walking for 5-6 days, it’s easy to get lost. Once the captors get their money, they often lie to the group, sending them in the wrong direction on purpose. Once that happens, they’re left behind, often to never be seen or heard from again, left to die in the middle of 30,000 acres of ranch land in the middle of nowhere.

“One of the worst things we have to do is to explain to a family member that their loved one didn’t make it,” ASAC Delgado said. “When they don’t hear from a family member, people think they made it. It gives them joy that one of them made it. Those are the ones that we do find. There are a lot more out there left for dead that we will never know about.”

Updated: 11/19/2020