U.S. Border Patrol agents at the Interstate 19 checkpoint found 33 foreign nationals – including 12 minors and a pregnant woman – inside a sweltering produce trailer Tuesday.
Nogales-based agents working the primary inspection lanes referred the driver of a 2002 Freightliner tractor and refrigerated trailer to the secondary inspection area for further immigration-related questioning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a news release.
An inspection of the trailer revealed that 33 people from Mexico and El Salvador were hiding alongside a shipment of Mexican produce.
“The interior of the trailer was nearly 100 degrees, causing imminent danger to the people locked inside with no means of egress,” the CBP news release said. “Although the trailer was equipped with a refrigeration unit, the driver did not have it turned on.”
The 12 minors in the trailer ranged in age from 3 to 17, the agency said, adding that the passengers also included a convicted felon.
All of the people being smuggled were taken into Border Patrol custody and will be processed for immigration violations, CBP said.
The 37-year-old Mexican driver was arrested and charged with felony human-smuggling violations.
“In an effort to prevent fatalities at the hands of smugglers, Department of Homeland Security has recently launched ‘Operation Safeguard’ to educate the public and the trucking industry on the life-threatening dangers involved in using commercial conveyances to smuggle humans,” CBP said.
News of the incident prompted a congratulatory tweet from the official White House account, which said: “THANK YOU to our heroic Border Patrol agents, whose vigilance caught this smuggler and potentially saved lives!”
That tweet was met with an array of critical responses, many referencing the Border Patrol detention centers where undocumented children and families are being held in overcrowded and sometimes squalid conditions.
“Yes, this is tragic,” wrote one responder. “It's also tragic that you lock these people up IN ALMOST THE EXACT SAME CONDITIONS.”