Two dead, 17 nearly suffocated in railroad car smuggling event in Uvalde

Victims hid inside a railroad car to be smuggled into U.S.

Published: March 26, 2023 1:50pm

Updated: March 26, 2023 6:36pm

(The Center Square) -

At least two people are dead and 17 nearly suffocated after they illegally entered the U.S. and hid inside a railroad car to be smuggled into the U.S.

On Friday, the Uvalde Police Department issued a statement saying its office had received a 911 call from an anonymous caller stating there were numerous illegal foreign nationals “suffocating” inside of a train car.

U.S. Border Patrol agents were informed of the call and stopped the train roughly two to three miles east of Knippa, Texas, in Uvalde County.

On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed 17 people were hiding inside a rail car including 15 men and two women. Two men were pronounced dead when agents arrived.

Officers closed part of Highway 90 between Knippa and Sabinal to allow helicopters to land, which brought EMTs to treat severely dehydrated survivors. Four were taken to area hospitals.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told Texas Public Radio that the train had been sitting on the tracks for about three hours. He said, "911 got a call – don't know if it was from a family member or one of the migrants who were locked in the shipping container."

"There were more people than we had ambulances [currently] available in Uvalde," he added. "We called them in from everywhere – Kerrville, San Antonio, Hondo, and locally in Uvalde."

Union Pacific railroad and Department of Homeland Security are investigating the incident.

This isn’t the first time foreign nationals have been found hiding inside of train cars to be smuggled into the U.S. It’s a common practice – Border Patrol agents are regularly positioned along the railroad tracks that run parallel to Highway 90, The Center Square has observed. The tracks pass through multiple counties along the border. With the national news increasingly reporting on smuggling events, this incident received greater publicity than previous apprehensions involving rail cars.

Border Patrol agents and sheriff’s deputies regularly apprehend human smugglers in the southwest border counties of Uvalde, Kinney, and Val Verde. Smugglers use railroad cars to transport people; coyotes follow train tracks, pipelines and power lines as they bring groups of foreign nationals north to bypass law enforcement and Border Patrol checkpoints.

Those being smuggled are considered gotaways by Border Patrol agents and law enforcement. They don’t enter at ports of entry making asylum or other immigration-related claims. They intentionally seek to evade capture by law enforcement after they’ve entered the country illegally between ports of entry.

They’re given burner phones with GPS and map apps to know where to go on pre-planned routes near county roads, Highway 90 and I-10, law enforcement officers have explained. Cartel and gang operatives use social media to advertise and solicit drivers from major cities in Texas and other states to drive to certain locations along the border to transport illegal foreign nationals north. Depending on the amount being paid per person, drivers can make several thousand dollars a carload. If caught, the smugglers face being charged with multiple felony counts of human smuggling and several years in prison.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a tweet thanked Border Patrol agents and HSI agents who responded to the incident. He also said DHS would “work with the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office to hold those responsible. Smugglers are callous and only care about making a profit.”

But the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing Border Patrol agents, has blamed Mayorkas and Biden administration policies for creating the cartel-driven smuggling crisis at the border.

Days before the railroad incident, the NBPC tweeted, “Biden's border remains the most out-of-control, lawless disaster zone it's ever been. Yet radical leftists still defend him as he routinely torpedoes one all-time record after another. Why? Because they love this complete dismantling of the rule of law. It's a win for them.”

Human smuggling is a daily occurrence in Texas stemming from the southern border. Texas law enforcement officers have apprehended nearly 360,000 illegal foreign nationals and made over 26,000 criminal arrests, with more than 23,000 felony charges reported since Gov. Greg Abbott launched the state’s border security mission through Operation Lone Star in March 2021. OLS officers have also seized over 373 million lethal doses of fentanyl, more than enough to kill everyone in the United States.

“Operation Lone Star continues to fill the dangerous gaps left by the Biden Administration's refusal to secure the border,” Gov. Greg Abbott has said. “Every individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President [Joe] Biden's open border policies.”

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