Report details human dangers

A record number of immigrants died in Texas last year, according to a report released this week.
But while many continue to risk their lives to reach the United States with hopes for a better future, others arrive with malicious intent, authorities warn. They are referred to as “criminal aliens.”
Although some of them act alone, others are affiliated with the cartels or gangs, a Texas Public Safety Threat Overview report found.
“A review of these 141,982 defendants shows that they are responsible for at least 447,844 individual criminal charges over their criminal careers, including 2,032 homicides and 5,048 sexual assaults,” the report released Wednesday states.

Close to home
The Gulf Cartel’s Jose Luis Zuñiga-Hernandez, aka “El Wicho,” has an extensive criminal past dating back to 1990, when he was convicted for a 2,600-pound marijuana shipment.
He was deported to Mexico in 1997.
In October 2011, Zuñiga-Hernandez was arrested with a gold-plated, diamond-and-ruby-encrusted Colt .38 super handgun worth $57,000 crossing the river near Santa Maria as he tried to flee Mexico with cocaine, money and a weapon. He was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to illegal re-entry and being an alien in possession of a firearm.
“El Wicho” is not an isolated case. According to the report, from October 2008 until December 2012 Texas identified nearly 142,000 “unique criminal alien defendants.”
Although the report doesn’t say how many of those defendants are Mexican drug cartel members or have ties to cartels, a quick look at several Cameron County cases reveals that cartel members are among those numbers.
Zuñiga-Hernandez was a former plaza boss for Matamoros and Control, Tamaulipas, in charge of all organized criminal activity in those areas, including smuggling, according to federal court testimony.
During his sentencing, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen noted that he is a threat.
“The defendant has a criminal history where he brought over a ton of marijuana and he is yet again in the U.S. with a loaded gun, cocaine and almost $40,000 in cash,” Hanen said during the February sentencing. “That is a serious threat to the well-being of the citizens of South Texas.”
After serving his sentence, Zuñiga-Hernandez will be deported.
Then there is Rafael Cardenas-Vela, a major player in the Gulf Cartel, who was arrested also in October 2011 after being pulled over in Port Isabel for a traffic violation.
Cardenas-Vela has been cooperating with authorities and has testified against Gulf Cartel members in federal court.
He has pleaded guilty to narcotic distribution charges, conspiracy to launder money and having a fraudulent Mexican passport. He will be sentenced next week.
Mexican cartels control either directly or indirectly most human smuggling and trafficking routes and networks in Texas, according to the DPS threat report.
“The nature of the cartels’ command and control of human smuggling and human trafficking networks along the border is varied,” the report states, adding that cartels either have direct organizational involvement or are paid by smuggling organizations to operate in their territory.
And the number of undocumented immigrant apprehensions in Texas accounts for 50 percent of all apprehensions along the border in fiscal year 2012, the report states.
Since 2006, Border Patrol reported 1,338,541 apprehensions, the report states.
“The number of USBP human smuggling cases in the Rio Grande Valley increased to 2,737 cases involving 32,138 aliens in FY2012, from 2,204 cases involving 12,473 aliens in FY2011, with the increase probably due to enhanced law enforcement efforts and other factors,” the report states.
Some of these people are children, and their fates in the hands of smugglers or cartel members can be a sad one.
“Some children are more vulnerable to exploitation, such as unaccompanied alien children (UAC). Since FY2010, there have been 58,763 UAC apprehensions along the US-Mexico border, including 33,474 in Texas sectors,” the report stated.
In Texas, the number of unaccompanied undocumented immigrant children has increased 81 percent in the past two years and is becoming increasingly concentrated.
“Texas sectors accounted for 65 percent of all UAC apprehensions along the border in FY2012, up from 48 percent in FY2010,” the report stated.
Just this week, a woman was arrested in Brownsville and accused of trying to smuggle a 9-year-old girl into the country by saying the girl was her daughter. The woman presented a birth certificate for the child that didn’t belong to the girl.
Dangerous methods
In late February, Border Patrol agents and Brownsville police uncovered the largest stash house in Cameron County’s recent memory.
A 23-year-old Houston man pleaded guilty this week to harboring undocumented immigrants in the case. Authorities arrested him after some of the 90 undocumented immigrants found in and around a house at the 1200 block of Squaw Valley identified him as the caretaker of the house.
A few smaller stash houses in Cameron County were discovered following his arrest, but it’s not known whether any of them are connected.
After smugglers are able to get people across the Rio Grande, a stash house is generally their first stop, according to the report.
“In the Rio Grande Valley sector alone, law enforcement responded to 237 stash houses, where they apprehended 4,752 illegal aliens in FY2012, up from 178 stash houses with 1,945 illegal aliens in FY2011,” the report stated.
The increase is due to multiple factors, but can be particularly attributed to law enforcement putting more resources into identifying the locations, the report states.
“The number of aliens that had been held in those locations over time is much higher than the number who were apprehended during law enforcement discovery,” the report states. “And stash houses are not located only near the border — they have been reported near San Antonio, Austin, Odessa, Houston, and elsewhere.”
Conditions in stash houses often are squalid, and immigrants face many other dangers.
“Hundreds of illegal aliens have died in Texas and elsewhere along the border,” the report states. “Since FY2008, 2,008 deaths of suspected illegal aliens have been reported along the border, including 839 in Texas sectors.”
People die from the heat, in train and vehicle accidents or by drowning, among other ways.
“FY2012 was a record year for such deaths in Texas sectors, increasing 198 percent from 91 in FY2010 to 271 in FY2012,” the report states. “An even greater number of illegal aliens have been rescued from such conditions by law enforcement; since FY2008, 6,375 people have been rescued along the border, including 3,020 in Texas.”
Smugglers are also known to extort people they have smuggled into this country, and use violence to control them.
“Smugglers also regularly use violence, extortion, and unlawful restraint against illegal aliens. In some cases, they are forced to perform labor, and females — including minors — may be sexually assaulted,” the report states. “Some are subjected to physical assaults if payments are not received, and several have died while being held in stash houses in Texas.”
The report also suggests that rival organizations that treat humans like commodities also attempt to steal groups of undocumented people from each other.
And the DPS report recognizes the tragic nature that cartels and criminal organizations have wreaked on the Lone Star State’s southern neighbor.
“Crime threatens the safety, security and freedom of people. Sadly, one needs only to look to our neighbor to the south to view the impact that organized crime can have on a nation and its citizens,” the report states. “Some 60,000 men and women have been killed in Mexico since 2006, with a substantial number of brutal tortures and beheadings.”
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