Behind the human smuggling trade business in AZ

YUMA, Ariz. – The human smuggling trade is getting even more dangerous as the Desert Southwest heats up. Regardless of the dangers, smugglers continue the illegal activity raking in the profits.

“People have been so dehydrated that they can’t even swallow. Their tongues are swollen and their eyes are so dry that they’re about to pop out,” Yuma Sector Border Patrol Agent Richard Withers said.

He’s talking about immigrants facing life threatening situations to make it past our borders.

“They’re so hot from the sun and the temperatures that they feel that removing clothing will cool them off and even bury themselves in the sand to try to cool them off and that’s when things can turn south,” said Withers.

Human smugglers take advantage of those undocumented immigrants. Offering them a chance to make it into our country, if they pay the price.

“Your going to be charged anywhere from $300 to $3,000 per head,” Homeland Security Investigations Deputy Special Agent Louie Garcia said.

Last year U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement convicted more than 2,000 people for human smuggling. That same year the U.S. Border Patrol reported 240 deaths throughout the borders.  It’s a number they’ve been trying to decrease. Which can become difficult since they are up against a $5 billion black market industry according to Time Magazine. Profits aside, Withers says it’s not worth the gamble.

“Coyotes will lie to immigrants and they’ll victimize the immigrants. Saying that it’s only a short passage through the desert little journey through the desert to civilization. When in fact it can be three plus days,” said Withers.

Three days in the desert with scorching temperatures in the summer, making the trip a death sentence.

“There is no way a person can carry enough water to survive this heat,” said Withers.

Whether it’s through the desert, sea or border checkpoints, Withers says he’s seen it all.

“There was a vehicle within the checkpoint. The dogs alerted to people in the trunk and there were three people hidden in the trunk that were trying to get through the immigration checkpoint to get further into the United States,” said Withers.

So what part of Arizona is human smuggling most common in?

“The most common in Arizona I would say is between the ports of entry. Through the hills through the desert,” said Garcia.

That’s why border patrol agents rely so heavily on our border wall and border check points.

“Immigration checkpoints are the second line of defense for people that are not only getting smuggled further into the country but may be in dangers way because of where they are being hidden in vehicles,” said Withers.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol they saw first hand 68 deaths in Arizona last year, five of those in Yuma.

Undocumented immigrants aren’t the only ones dying when it comes to this crime, just in the Yuma Sector alone several agents lost their life while working to protect our borders.

So what’s being done to eliminate the illegal trade?

“I don’t think you’ll ever be able to eliminate human smuggling. So what we do is we stay vigilant alert and just patrolling the border,” said Withers.

As for now Yuma Sector Border Patrol is working with other forces to continue to stop this illegal trade along with ensuring the safety of our community and the safety of undocumented immigrants.

About The Author

Denelle Confair graduated with her Bachelors from Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Broadcast and Mass Communication. She got her first on air reporter job for the NBC affiliate in Montana. After her time there she reported for the NBC affiliate in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. In Texas she covered multiple stories on the Gulf Cartel and immigration. Now she says she's glad to be back in her home state of Arizona. In her free time she enjoys hiking and writing. For story ideas you can email her at or find her on Facebook.

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