Smugglers earn more jail time than cash

It must seem like a piece of cake. Load the vehicle with immigrants and haul tail from the border to points farther north, like Uvalde or San Antonio. All you have to do is play it smart, and the payoff is huge: $1,000 per head.

The fact that it is not so easy is why our twice-weekly crime report has exploded with cases of human smuggling. In all of 2020 there were 48 arrests by law enforcement agencies operating in Uvalde County, compared with 308 for the first nine months of this year. And that doesn’t include the people who were released to be charged later because the jail was full.

Scarcely a week goes by that the newspaper’s police report does not contain a dozen names of people arrested for smuggling immigrants who are believed to be in the country illegally. The crime is a third degree felony, which carries a jail sentence of up to 10 years if convicted. And while suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, it’s a pretty tall stretch to avoid the slammer when you are caught in the border region with passengers who cannot prove their U.S citizenship.

There are exceptions, of course, like the elderly couple that was pulled over recently in Sabinal. In addition to the man and woman who owned the SUV, there were a trio of passengers who happened to be from El Salvador. The couple told police that they were returning home to Bandera from the casino in Eagle Pass when they encountered the man, woman, and her daughter walking along the Old Eagle Pass Road. Being good Samaritans, the couple stopped, bought the people food and were delivering them to Hondo, where the immigrants hoped to obtain help.

We know, of course, that people, regardless of age or background, are perfectly capable of wrapping their crimes in pretty alibis, but it would be extremely cynical to judge this couple too harshly. If they are guilty of anything, it is probably not using good judgement.

The bulk of those arrested, who come from all over Texas and even states far removed, are clear-eyed about what they are up to and willing to endanger themselves and bystanders in the process. Some are better at it than others. The guy who drove his MINI Cooper through the middle of Uvalde with his passengers’ arms and legs waving from the windows like a black sea anemone clearly owns the low end of the talent spectrum. Others employ decoys and conceal their passengers in the most ingenious ways. They are the ones getting away with their crimes, at least for the time being.

At the end of the day, crime does not pay. The accomplished smugglers will eventually succumb to greed and face a judge who should give them the maximum sentence. The message is clear: Smuggling poor, desperate people is a dangerous and despicable business that will not be tolerated.