Sheriff: 26 migrants rescued, several in custody after human-smuggling operation is busted in south Bexar County

Deputies say they discovered the human smuggling victims in a “stifling hot” wooden structure that didn’t have AC.

SAN ANTONIO — Bexar County officials say 26 human-smuggling victims were found and seven others taken into custody when law enforcement busted an operation on the far south side Thursday afternoon. 

On a day when temperatures were threatening to reach triple-digits, Sheriff Javier Salazar said the migrants – the youngest of which is believed to be 18 – were found in a “stifling hot” wooden structure in the area of Loop 1604 and Oak Island Drive. 

Authorities say there was no air conditioning inside the structure. Eleven of the 26 people found there were transported to local hospitals to be treated for heat-related ailments. One woman identified as being from Guatemala reportedly paid $16,000 to be brought into the U.S. 

Several agencies are involved in the ongoing investigation, including Homeland Security. 

“It’s under control, but it was a pretty chaotic situation,” Salazar said, adding no one was found dead on Thursday. “Everyone worked together beautifully to bring this thing to as peaceful a status right now as we could’ve had.”

Salazar said BCSO became aware of and established surveillance on a long gooseneck truck being used to smuggle the victims into town Thursday. The people inside, he says, were transported in a “false compartment” inside the truck on top of hard mesh for nearly three hours.

“That trailer, you can be stranding right up on it, and not know that thing contains 26 people. It drove by thousands of cars, easily, on that three-hour trip from the border.”

Video provided by the agency shows the 26 migrants were just inches above the ground while on the road. 

Nearly 30 migrants were found and several others detained when the human-smuggling operation was discovered.

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Of the seven detained, it’s still unclear who will be facing charges, according to Salazar. Several people initially fled the scene but BCSO believes everyone has now been accounted for.

“It’s quite common for coyotes to pass themselves off as victims,” he added. “Only when we start drawing information out of them can we determine this is not a victim, this is a bad guy.”

Salazar called the wooden structure a “shack” with “spongy” floors and no running water. Inside, he said, were corrals that might be evidence of dogfighting or cockfighting. 

Deputies also found several bulletproof vests and long rifles on the property, according to Salazar, who called the operation “clearly cartel-related.”

“These guys, in some instances, are hiding in plain sight,” he said. “In others, they’re under the radar. We’d use this as an opportunity to remind everybody: If  you have information on a smuggling operation, give us a call at 210-335-6000.”

This month marks two years since 53 migrants died after being abandoned in a sweltering-hot big rig on San Antonio’s southwest side, amounting to the deadliest human-smuggling incident in U.S. history. 


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