SAN ANTONIO – One of the 29 survivors rescued from the back of an un-air conditioned trailer parked in a southwest San Antonio Walmart early Sunday morning gave a first-hand account of their harrowing journey from Mexico into the U.S.
The undocumented immigrant told federal investigators how he and more than two dozen others crossed the Rio Grande in a raft, ferried by people connected to the Zetas Cartel, and spent more than 15 hours in a cramped, pitch black big rig trailer with 70 other people without food, water or fresh air.
The man’s story is terrifying but not uncommon, investigators say, and is representational of the 675,000 people estimated to cross over the border from Mexico every year.
The man, whom Homeland Security investigators refer to by the initials JMM-J, said his journey began in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
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Their first stop was Nuevo Laredo, on the Mexican side of the border from Laredo, Texas
He told investigators their final destination was San Antonio. He was supposed to pay the smugglers $5,000.
The Zetas Cartel helped him cross the Rio Grande River
He said he and 28 other people took a raft across the river around 8 p.m. on the night they left. The Zetas charged him 11,000 Mexican pesos for protection and 1,500 Mexican pesos to cross the deep river. It took three trips to get their group across the river.
They walked all night across the desert
Once in Texas, his group began walking. They were picked up around 9 a.m. the following day by someone in a silver Chevrolet Silverado truck and taken to the trailer.
There were already 70 people in the trailer
The man told investigators that his group was the last of a larger group that was already inside. The refrigeration unit in the trailer was broken and it was pitch black and hot inside.
They were not given food or water
The group of about 100 people were cramped in the back of the sweltering trailer. People inside were making noise to get someone’s attention, he said, but nobody ever came.
They waited for 12 hours inside the trailer
Around 9 p.m., someone opened the rear door of the trailer and told them they would be leaving. Everyone inside was given pieces of colored tape that would identify them to the smugglers who were waiting to take them to their final destination.
People began to pass out but no one helped
Within the first hour of the trip, the man said, people began to have trouble breathing. Some started to pass out. The group began to get desperate, with some beginning to hit the trailer walls and making noise to get the driver’s attention. They made a hole to provide some ventilation and took turned breathing through it for fresh air. The driver never stopped.
Several hours later, they arrived in San Antonio
When the driver stopped, he braked hard, the man said, causing the people in the trailer to fall over from being weak. Six black SUVs were waiting to pick up some of the people. The man told investigators he did not see who had opened the trailer doors, nor who the driver of the big rig was.
Other survivors gave a similar account
One man told federal investigators his group of 24 people had stayed at a stash house in Laredo, Texas, for 11 days before arriving at the trailer. Another man said he and his brother also crossed the border in Laredo. He said he paid 60,000 Mexican pesos for his trip and was headed to Minnesota as his final destination.