Human smugglers treat people like ‘container full of pencils,' ICE agent says

Others may be involved in human-smuggling case with 18-wheeler driver

By Adrian Garcia - Digital Journalist

SAN ANTONIO - A special agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shed more light Wednesday on Sunday’s multiple casualty tractor-trailer tragedy. 

Shane Folden, a special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, told KSAT-12 that the organizations involved in human-smuggling schemes place little regard to human life, their ultimate goal is to make quick, easy money off of desperate people.

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“These people place no value (on human life) and they treat a container full of people the same way they treat a container full of pencils,” Folden said.

Despite authorities arresting the driver of the 18-wheeler, James M. Bradley Jr., Folden said investigators have been following up on leads they’ve received that point to others being involved in a greater human-smuggling ring along with Bradley.

“You may have drivers involved, you may have individuals responsible for actually bringing people across the border, you may have someone who’s responsible for managing a staging location or stash house,” Folden said. “You may have individuals who are responsible for the money … when you talk about dismantling or disrupting an organization, you don’t stop with the driver.”

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Bradley was formally charged with one count of transporting illegal aliens resulting in death. Ten of the people in Bradley's trailer have died while 26 still remain hospitalized. Three other survivors have since been released.

In the federal complaint filed against Bradley on Monday, one of the 29 survivors rescued from the broiling trailer gave a first-hand account of their harrowing journey from Mexico into the United States.

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The undocumented immigrant told investigators how he and two dozen others crossed the Rio Grande with the help of members of the Zetas Cartel.

“You may have the Zetas controlling the area south of the border (and) although they may not be explicitly involved in the human-smuggling organization, that organization may have to pay a fee to the cartel to operate within that area,” Folden said.

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One of the department’s goals is to try and “follow the money, seize the money, remove the money from the criminals to try and take away their means of facilitating the crime,” Folden said.

Folden said it’s not uncommon for the cartel to dictate the crossing points for the organization so as "not to interfere with other schemes” such as drug trafficking, but that it’s too early into the investigation to determine the role of the cartel.

What happens to the victims involved in the human-smuggling case once they're released from the hospital is solely dictated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which takes into account their contribution as witnesses in the criminal case.

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“It really depends on the individual, it depends on their background, it depends on what type of information they may have and if they can contribute to the criminal case,” Folden said. “If they can’t contribute, then it’s a decision made by the U.S. Attorney’s office.”  

In order to avoid future incidents that result in multiple fatalities from human-smuggling schemes, Folden said the department is calling for the public to say something if they feel illegal activity is being conducted in their area.

“There’s human smuggling activities that occur throughout the southern border of the United States and this one obviously was extremely tragic,” Folden said.

“We rely on the public to provide information to assist in targeting these individuals because if they are allowed to operate and run rabid, most definitely there’s more people and human life put in danger,” Folden said.

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The department said since Sunday’s fatal tragedy, they have been receiving tips almost on a daily basis on their hotline -- 866-347-2423 -- both from within the U.S. and internationally.

The tip-line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

agarcia@ksat.com

THE WHOLE STORY

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