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Operation Big Rig Launched to Combat Human Smuggling

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MCALLEN – Efforts to stop human trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley are in full force. State investigators say tractor trailers are in their crosshairs.

Operation Big Rig is a call to action to stop human smuggling.

The number of rescues and apprehensions are rising. It's approach to put law enforcement agencies, the community and truck drivers on watch.

Cross-country truck drivers always have to double check their cargo. Truck driver Gilberto Aguilar points to the top of the trailer bed, a small open crevice is there.

"You got to check because two or three people can fit in there. And then when we are at the checkpoints the cameras will point in there to make sure nobody's in there,” said Aguilar.

Aguilar travels from Florida to South Texas every year. He's crossed U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints for 17 years.

“Especially, out there in Louisiana. They make it all the way to Louisiana and you see somebody opens those doors and they are jumping out of there by dozens of them,” said Aguilar.

Aguilar said he sees people all the way to South Texas checkpoints. It's an ongoing view from his truck.

“Almost every other week; you see somebody with somebody in it. So it's pretty often,” said Aguilar.

It's smuggling incidents like the 26 people who crossed illegally packed in a rental truck at the Falfurrias Border Patrol checkpoint. Also, the deadly incident in San Antonio, 10 people died in the back of a tractor-trailer.

Border Patrol Chief Manuel Padilla said the number of these cases is rising.

"We actually had 45 cases in the fiscal year 2017 that resulted in over 600 rescues,” said Padilla.

Padilla wants these high numbers to go down. Border Patrol and the Joint Task Force West South Texas Corridor have rolled out Operation Big Rig.

"It's truly an awareness campaign, because of what we are seeing the transportation of immigrants in tractor trailers actually an increase in the number of cases,” said Padilla.

Padilla said it's a way for the community to get involved and those like Aguilar to report it.

"Yeah, I think it’s going to have a little percentage where it’s going to work but you know it’s still a lot of people out there going different directions, but it should impact a few people having second thoughts about getting inside of a truck,” said Aguilar.

In the second month of the fiscal year 2018, Padilla pointed out they have over 100 apprehensions and up to 9 semi-truck human smuggling cases.

Padilla said the slogan, “They're humans, not cargo,” will be on the back of cars and billboards across Texas. He explained people who see any suspicious activity to call 911.

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