***Warning: This story contains detailed descriptions that some readers may find disturbing and may not be suitable for young audiences. Reader discretion is advised.
Sarah Dodd, Rogelio Martinez, Matt Briscoe
For The South Texas Journal
There is no doubt that Mexico is a dangerous place and most would agree that the migrants making their way into South Texas and America do have a very difficult journey. However, few here have actually seen what that journey is actually like and what the struggles are for the people who have decided to make it. After weeks of negotiations with cartel leaders and those who control these routes, we were able to get an inside look at what dangers are experienced along the way.
We began our journey in Mexico City where we met up with a group of Indian migrants wanting to make their way into the United States. They have paid thousands of dollars to be escorted into the United States by smugglers, known as “coyotes.”
One of them is just 15 and she has decided on her own to make this dangerous journey to Texas, where she hopes to meet up with family members in Houston.
“Yes, I am scared,” the young girl says. “But my dreams are bigger than my fears.”
She knows all too well the dangers of the trip and that at any moment she could be kidnapped and raped by the violent gang members who routinely monitor and control this route. But despite the dangers she is not in any way turning back.
“I left a place worse than you can think of,” she says. “My siblings and I had no food and all I could think of was getting here with my family to make a real life.”
The young girl from India is not alone. In fact, she is traveling with 16 more people who come from places like Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. All of them under the age of 25 and filled with hopes and dreams that only youth can foster.
But standing in the way of all of that youthful bliss is one thing–crime bosses.
In Mexico City we met with Kalim, who serves as an agent for migrants making their way through Mexico from places like India. Kalim agreed to speak with us and explain exactly what it is that he does.
“Back in India they pay an agent there who has contacts along the route,” says Kalim. “He makes sure that everything goes well and that all of the fees are paid in advance to the contacts here in Mexico.”
Those contacts that Kalim is talking about are cartel bosses and gang leaders who have further contacts at the local level. Those contacts, he says pay off federal agents, police and immigration authorities along the route to make sure that the migrants can safely pass through the area. But it does not always work like it is planned.
Making our way out of Mexico City we make contact with another man who has agreed to take us to the United States Border with them and allow us to observe what is really going on behind the scenes. What we saw is rarely filmed and even less frequently documented. But nonetheless worrisome.
Kalim says that he works with the man often and our contacts have advised him that we would be traveling along with them as they make their way to the United States.
The Indian girls and their companions load up in van which begins to make the long trip towards Nuevo Laredo where we will meet up with a coyote who knows exactly how to reach the other side.
“You can come,” the man says. “But I won’t promise you anything.”
What he meant was simply that even though we had paid our “taxes” to the cartel members, our safety would not be assured. Like those who are being transported illegally into Texas, we are now on our own.
Once in Nuevo Laredo we arrive at a house where we are met by another group of people who were at best, not very trusting.
“They told us to show you,” one man said as he tied a bandana around his face for disguise. “The Americans are not stopping anything.”
At this point we are seperated from the group and for what reason we are not exactly sure. But the Indian girls and several others were taken one direction and we were taken to another, presumably to be shown how the cartels make their money.
“We have hundreds to thousands of kilos each week go across the border,” the man says in a seemingly proud tone. “The demand is so large that we are actually helping their (the American) economy, too.”
He points to marijuana that is being stored in a corner and is properly prepared for transport across the border into Texas. It is sealed tightly and packaged into airtight containers that are then wiped down with a chemical agent to further reduce the chance of being detected by drug sniffing dogs. Their planning is elaborate and according to this man, the planning pays off.
For every shipment that he gets safely across into Texas, it could be worth thousands of dollars. Later today, he will be transporting not only precious human cargo, but hundreds of pounds of drugs into Texas.
A few hours later the Indian girls return, this time looking like something seriously had just happened to them. In fact, it had.
The girls had been taken and forced to become naked in front of a group of men who “examined” them from head to toe. They had been touched in unimaginable places and sprayed with a chemical that dissolves body scents. They were then given new clothes which had been soaked in the same odor killing chemical as an added layer of precaution.
“Come now,” the man says as he directs us to a freight loading dock. “They just called and said that the line was short.”
Immediately, the girls and others were then wrapped in a thermal type blanket and told to sit quietly in a large cardboard box. Moments later, additional freight was loaded onto the truck and away they went for the state of Texas.
“I will take you with me,” our guide says. “You cannot go with them.”
Only hours before, cartel operatives sent a truck through the border crossing with over one ton of illegal cargo aboard. This they said would serve as a decoy for them to make their crossing easier. As an added measure of safety, these so-called “agents” have been working with border officials in the United States who are on the gang’s payroll, providing them much needed intelligence to help them get across.
After a short time in a vehicle we arrived in Laredo, Texas to what is known as a freight forwarder who is paid to take legitimate freight into and out of Mexico. There hundreds of them.
After only about 20 more minutes the truck carrying the drugs and the migrants arrived, too. Within moments the freight, drugs and human cargo were off loaded into a dock area where workers seemed nonetheless aware or caring of what was going on right in front of their eyes.
While we know that the girls and the group did make to Laredo, we were barred from speaking to them at the loading dock. Our Mexican minders refused to speak or let us speak further with those who had just came across.
We don’t know what became of any of them or if they made it safely to their final destinations. Perhaps, they simply became another statistic. But either way, this story is played out hundreds of times each day and it is only getting worse, and it is likely that there is little that anybody can do to stop it.