OPINION: Texas smuggling tragedy reminds us of Florida’s issues

An estimated 53 people were found dead in a truck in San Antonio, drawing attention to the troubling human smuggling issue in Florida and elsewhere. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/MEDIUM

In what is called a deadly human smuggling event, 53 people were found dead in a sweltering tractor-trailer on June 27 on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas due to heat strokes and exhaustion, according to a Homeland Security Investigations statement.

Stacks of bodies were discovered inside the truck, and 16 additional people were rushed into nearby hospitals for emergency rescues, fire chief Charles Hood said in a live press conference.

This raises concerns about the recurring struggle in dealing with smuggling cases across Florida, especially for the Florida Highway Patrol, as stated by Troop C Public Affairs Officer Steve Gaskins. Additional funding in technology and stricter law enforcement would help Florida solve the human smuggling problem which has troubled the state for decades.

Human trafficking cases are reported in every state, but Florida remains in the top three states with highest numbers of cases as of 2020, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Florida’s figure stood at 738, as compared to 987 and 1334 for Texas and California respectively.

Increasing rates of smuggling are attributed to Florida’s booming agricultural economy and tourism industry, with a huge need for cheap and forced labor, as per the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Over 2500 contacts regarding human trafficking in Florida have been made to the national hotline in 2020, up almost 800 calls after a span of four years. This is not to mention unreported cases due to its underground nature. 

There remain vulnerabilities within the Department of Homeland Security which leaves opportunities for smuggling networks to continue operations. 

Border patrols “don’t have the staffing, resources and capabilities to check every single truck,” Jack Staton, a former senior executive with Homeland Security Investigations, said in a June 29 article from The New York Times.

For instance, the Texas truck carrying the 53 migrants passed a checkpoint that lacks some of the high-tech equipment available at the border, San Antonio representative Henry Cuellar said in a July 1st article from Reuters.

Massive traffic volumes at U.S. borders make comprehensive monitoring a huge challenge. Efforts to inspect vast amounts of vehicles arriving at the border clogs the border and results in backlash, according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Stricter law enforcement is a plausible measure to combat human smuggling. A mixture of disruption and deterrence strategies should be applied, including policies such as increasing legal penalties for alien smuggling and strengthening prosecution of traffickers, as suggested by the 2021 Nation Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.

Funding is also a welcomed resource to strengthen the workforce and facilities at border patrols and highway checkpoints. This would boost security in response to a growing and complicated network of transnational criminal smuggling organizations, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Human smuggling is still a daily occurrence across U.S. borders, proving a serious human rights threat. Florida, as a central access point for criminal trafficking networks, should tighten regulations before cases like the Texas truck haunt our community.