DALLAS (CBS11) – A truck driver faces life in prison or even the death penalty after being accused of transporting people in the U.S. illegally in a sweltering semi-trailer with no air-conditioning.
Ten people died, and nearly 30 are hospitalized, after a Walmart employee in San Antonio spotted the truck and a victim early Sunday morning and called 911.
Bill Bernstein, Deputy Director of Mosaic Family Services in Dallas, says even though what happened in San Antonio may be rare, the problem is all too common.
“It’s a horrible situation to happen and you wish things like that didn’t happen,” said Bernstein.
Bernstein says the victims opt to come into the country by being smuggled in through some form of transportation. “They leave because they’re real desperate and they’re willing to face conditions that are so intolerable that they know they’re putting their lives on the line to get there.”
Authorities say the driver, 60-year-old James Bradley, told them he didn’t know there were dozens of people in the trailer before discovering them.
Bradley faced a federal judge in San Antonio for the first time on Monday.
Investigators say some of those who escaped from the truck told them they crossed the border, then hid in stash houses in Laredo until they were brought into the trailer.
Experts say they believe this is part of a smuggling network.
This fiscal year, Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE, says it initiated 2,110 human smuggling investigations nationwide and had 1,522 convictions nationwide.
The Associate Director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU, Brad Klein says the Lone Star State sees many cases. “Texas and Dallas in particular, is a huge hub for both trafficking and smuggling. Part of it is location and part of it is the economy.”
Klein says smuggling can turn into another crime: human trafficking, when the victims are coerced or threatened. “Someone who may think they’re getting into a situation of simply being moved from one place to another may end up being trafficked.”
A study by the University of Texas released in January found there could be as many as 300,000 victims of human trafficking in this state alone.
Bernstein says Mosaic Family Services has helped more than 500 human trafficking victims in the past 16 years. “What they end up doing is they may be working 16 hours a day, not really being paid, fed, sleeping on the floor in a closet, it may involve sex work, it may involve any kind of labor.”
Klein says SMU will be hosting a two-day workshop on Human Trafficking September 13 and 14 to not only further shed light on the problem, but help find solutions as well.