Human smuggling is a deadly problem — and hardline immigration policies will make it worse


Sunday’s discovery that between 30 and 40 people had been smuggled across the border in the back of a tractor-trailer — and the subsequent reports that 10 of those people died from the sweltering heat — was a startling one. But historically speaking, it’s not too unusual.

Deadly human smuggling has been a problem for decades. Aggressive anti-immigration policies and rhetoric have only made the practice more commonplace, with smugglers or “coyotes” making millions off of immigrants desperate to enter the United States.

With President Donald Trump in office, experts said the problem may only grow worse.

“People use these risky means of entering the country when safer means are unavailable to them,” Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Though authorities have a difficult time keeping track of statistics on human smuggling due to the underground nature of the practice, San Antonio Police chief William McManus reminded reporters this latest case is hardly an “isolated incident.”

“Fortunately, we came across this one,” McManus told NBC News on Sunday. “Fortunately, there are people who survived. But this happens all the time.”

Nowrasteh said that while the phenomenon isn’t unique to President Donald Trump’s America, it certainly could become more prevalent considering his administration’s hardline stance on illegal immigration.

“The more border enforcement there is, the more people there are who are going to take risks like this — and it will result in more people dying,” Nowrasteh said. “I would expect it to continue and possibly increase during the Trump administration.”

So far, Trump’s aggressive plans for stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. have yet to materialize.

Though Trump signed an executive order paving the way for his much-talked-about border wall on his fifth day in office, its construction is indefinitely on hold until he can hammer out the finer points — like who will pay for it. Either way, Americans may not see Trump’s vision for a border wall come to life during the next 3.5 years of his term, considering a February Department of Homeland Security study estimated the wall itself would take 3.5 years to build.

Similarly, Trump has so far failed to deliver on his promise of securing the U.S.-Mexico border with 15,000 border patrol and ICE agents, a plan that could “cost billions” and “take years,” according to

But what Trump’s administration lacks in concrete action it makes up for in strong anti-immigrant rhetoric — and that alone can be enough to turn immigrants toward high-risk strategies for entering the U.S.

Back in March, Quartz reported that the mere “perception” of the U.S. as being unfriendly to undocumented immigrants is driving up the prices associated with smuggling — which can cost immigrants as much as $15,000 — and encouraging immigrants to go through with it before Trump builds his wall.

Four months later, not much has changed.


“This administration is focused on the border,” Nowrasteh said. “They’re focused on satisfying their base and doing what they promised to do during the campaign, regardless of the effects and reality on the ground.”

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