Tom Dart reports from Houston:
“Donald Trump’s immigration policies are likely to encourage migrants to risk more dangerous routes into the US, like the journey which this week ended with the death of ten people in a sweltering truck, border security experts have warned.
Dozens of people from Mexico and Central America were found packed into a non-air-conditioned cargo container in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio at about 12.30am last Sunday.
The deaths are thought to have been caused by heat exposure, dehydration and suffocation. About 30 people were hospitalised.
As part of its campaign to crackdown on undocumented migration, the Trump administration wants to force so-called “sanctuary cities” to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, beef up frontier security and surveillance, and – eventually – build a wall along the border with Mexico.
But Alonzo Peña, a former deputy director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), said simplistic strategies would not deter people desperate to join family or seek a better life. Instead, closing off simpler routes would prompt migrants to attempt more dangerous crossings.
“I call it an unfortunate collateral consequence,” he said. “They will put themselves in the hands of unscrupulous criminals that see them as just a commodity.”
Asked if a wall would help, Peña, now a consultant in San Antonio, said: “Absolutely not – it probably will contribute to more tragedies.”
He said building better binational relationships, encouraging information-sharing and more use of informants were key to breaking up networks of smugglers and traffickers.
In recent years, stepped-up frontier security has meant that smuggling activities once orchestrated by small, loosely organised enterprises are being run by bigger, more ruthless and profit-oriented criminal gangs with indirect links to drug cartels.
Packing many people into a truck is a profitable strategy for such smugglers. A large vehicle is a better hiding place than smaller alternatives and reduces the number of trips, making evading detection more likely at busy interior US Border Patrol checkpoints placed along highways near the frontier.
“The policies to enforce the border have the unintended consequence of strengthening transnational smuggling networks and the connection of business with transnational criminal organisations. There’s money there,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who studies migration and trafficking. “You are increasing the incentives for corruption on both sides of the border.”
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Texas this year passed a law banning so-called sanctuary cities – places that offer little or no cooperation with federal immigration agents. “Border security will help prevent this Texas tragedy,” John Cornyn, a US senator from Texas, wrote on Twitter.
But critics say that such enforcement does nothing to remove the “push factors” behind migration from Mexico and Central America, such as the lack of economic opportunity and violence by street gangs, security forces and crime groups.
A report published in March by the risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft termed Trump’s crackdown “a gift to human traffickers” by driving undocumented workers in the US deeper into the shadows, while a wall “would increase criminal trafficking fees, leaving migrants more deeply mired in debt and vulnerable to exploitation”.
But even this week’s deaths would not curtail demand, Correa-Cabrera said.
“They will still take trucks. They have been taking the journey and nothing has stopped them,” she said. “How many women are willing to take the journey even though they know there is a very high possibility of being raped?”
Folks are going to keep coming and keep dying until we make the needed, realistic changes to our legal immigration system. The smugglers will up their profits and expand their operations, making and taking more money than ever from already stressed individuals seeking to come. And the bodies will continue to pile up as a testament to the failed White Nationalist agenda of Trump and Sessions.
What “gonzo enforcement” has done, however, is to cut or eliminate the incentive for folks to use the legal system by coming to the border and presenting themselves for protection or by turning themselves in to the Border Patrol. Knowing that their rights under the law and as human beings will not be respected by the likes of Trump, Sessions, and Kelly’s replacement will merely put more individuals at the mercy of the smugglers. The smugglers are likely to get so good that we won’t have the faintest idea anymore how many forks are coming without documents until they wind up dead in a parking lot or a field. And, I suppose that CBP will come up with some formula like “for every dead body we figure there are 1,000 who made it into the interior.”