MCALLEN, RGV – Jennifer Bryson Clark, the founder of the long-running annual Human Trafficking Symposium at South Texas College, said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the migrant tractor-trailer tragedy in San Antonio last week.

In an email to the Rio Grande Guardian, Clark, an associate professor of political science and chair of women’s studies at South Texas College (STC), wrote about the shocking incident and on human trafficking in the United States and South America.

Jennifer Bryson Clark

On Sunday, a 10th immigrant died after human smugglers held dozens of migrants in a tractor-trailer without air conditioning, water or food at a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio. Twenty-nine immigrants were also hospitalized. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement believe the tractor-trailer held 70 to 200 people during the transport period from Laredo to San Antonio.

James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, in a federal complaint was charged with unlawfully transporting immigrants that resulted in ten deaths. Bradley faces life in prison or death, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release, according to a news release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday.

“To maximize their criminal profits, these human smugglers crammed more than 100 people into a tractor trailer in the stifling Texas summer heat resulting in 10 dead and 29 others hospitalized,” said Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan in the press release. “Human smugglers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have absolutely no regard for human life. Our ICE agents and officers, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will pursue these smugglers and bring them to justice.”

Clark’s expertise in forced migration and human trafficking has come to the fore at a crucial time with San Antonio making national headlines this weekend along with the cruel conditions immigrants face when traveling to the United States.

On a recent trip to study migration and trafficking in Mexico on a grant from the State Department, Clark said people are very familiar with a “coyote,” a person who runs a human smuggling operation.

“Regarding migration and trafficking and the incident in San Antonio. It does not surprise me what happened,” Clark said. “I was recently part of a state department grant to study migration, trafficking and organized crime along Mexico’s eastern migration routes. I traveled to El Salvador and Honduras. In Honduras, we interviewed a coyote who shed some light on the process.  Everyone in Central America knows a coyote.”

The cost for migrants to travel to the U.S. range from $7,500 to $12,000, but routes continue to be dangerous and migrants must pay higher prices for safer conditions, according to Clark.

¨Migrants pay between $10,000 – $12,000 to get to the U.S. Minors pay less, $7,500 – $8,000, the difference being, unaccompanied minors are left at the border and told to find Border Patrol and turn themselves in.¨

“The routes are extremely dangerous in Mexico, the more you pay, the safer you are from being kidnapped, extorted, or forced to work for organized crime. The State Department has acknowledged this as a form of trafficking – compelled labor for criminal activities. Coyotes and cartels are connected in that they have to pay cartels a fee to pass through their territory.”

Clark says there isn’t a known connection between human traffickers and cartels, but major human trafficking rings in Mexico have major networks in the U.S. that exploit immigrants and women from South America.

“Tamaulipas is the most dangerous state of course,” Clark said. “Apart from extortion, the nexus between human traffickers and cartels is not known. There are infamous human trafficking rings that originate in Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, mostly sex trafficking cases.  Traffickers from Tenancingo have sophisticated networks in the U.S. and supply women to many parts, mostly on the east coast and usually to service farm workers. This is well documented in the media.

“Regarding labor trafficking, H2-B visas and H2-A visas allow for the exploitation of migrant workers (the infamous Signal case with Indian nationals). There is some evidence of human trafficking for labor purposes taking place in the pan handle – H2-A visa exploitation.”