Growing human smuggling operations becoming more strategic, HSI agent says

Homeland Security Investigations tackles illegal transport of goods, human smuggling

SAN ANTONIO – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is staying busy tackling everything from the illegal transport of goods to the smuggling of people across the U.S.-Mexico border.

HSI is largely the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that concentrates on transnational crime, taking on criminal organizations who exploit legal and illegal pathways for goods and, as seen in recent cases, people.

If you see two incidents, both resulting in deaths in one weekend, you know that this is a common occurrence,” said Craig Larrabee, Special Agent with HSI.

Larrabee said HSI, in San Antonio and South Texas, is one of the busiest offices in the country right now. Their area of operation consists of 500 miles of the border that stretches from Val Verde down to Brownsville.

Their mission is to dismantle organizations responsible for cases like those seen this past weekend, where migrants were found trapped inside rail cars, resulting in injuries and several deaths.

Larrabee said the goal is also to discourage migrants from getting involved with a human smuggling operation.

“They’re a criminal organization. They have ties to violence, and they simply do not treat the migrant as a human being, but just as a commodity,” said Larrabee.

He said migrants are a way for criminal organizations to make money. It’s become a lucrative business that’s growing and becoming more strategic, and criminals are looking to increase their profits at any cost.

One way of increasing profits is to put more people in more dangerous situations, as in tractor trailers or the back of railway cars now. It’s become more profitable, in some cases even more profitable than smuggling narcotics,” said Larrabee.

Larrabee said the areas of the last two human smuggling cases involving train cars are where migrants are typically smuggled in by car. He said criminal organizations change their methods if law enforcement catches onto them.

According to Larrabee, when criminal organizations change how they smuggle people, they’ll recruit young adults, offering them a way to make quick cash out of cities like Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio through social media.

The criminal organizations will have their recruits head out to areas like Eagle Pass or Del Rio in small cars to pick up migrants, often running from law enforcement and creating dangerous situations for the people living in those communities.

Larrabee said this is ongoing, and HSI will likely continue to deal with this. He said there has been an increase in human smuggling cases in recent years.

“I mean, we’re very busy, and we’re going to do the best we can to take out these organizations,” said Larrabee.


About the Authors:

Jonathan Cotto is a reporter for KSAT’s Good Morning San Antonio. He’s a bilingual award-winning news reporter and he joined KSAT in 2021. Before coming to San Antonio, Cotto was reporting along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. He’s a veteran of the United States Navy.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.