McAllen, Texas — It happens almost daily, truck drivers knowingly - or unknowingly - move immigrants pass a Border Patrol checkpoint in their trucks as if their cargo.
However, the agency is working through a program called “Operation Big Rig” to help alleviate the trend.
It starts as a one-day information session to kick off a five-week course for future truck drivers at South Texas College in McAllen.
Border Patrol agent Joseph Quartarone leads the presentation in front of a class of nine students looking to obtain a commercial driver’s license. He educated them about the probabilities of becoming a recruiting target for cartels.
“A lot of times it’s at the truck stops. You guys are taking a rest there, you’re going to grab a bite to eat, use the restrooms, and that’s when you’re probably going to be approached,” Quartarone said to the class.
An offer from a stranger to smuggle immigrants in the trailer and move them pass a Border Patrol checkpoint for easy money. A tempting proposition that could lead to a tragedy, putting people’s lives in danger and the possibility of going to jail.
One such case happened in San Antonio, Texas last summer when 10 people died inside a hot trailer parked outside a Walmart. The truck driver was later sentenced to life in prison.
“It’s not worth it to go all your life to jail just for a couple of grand… the money is not worth it,” said Juan Garcia, who is taking the course.
It’s a scary reality for the students listening to Quartarone, but a reality nonetheless.
New York native Patrick Denison is at the end of his five-week course, he’s now trained to say ‘no’ to such propositions.
“[You] go inside and call the authorities. Do not deal with them. Cut it off right there,” he said.
“They go through the training now with that in the back of their head,” said Quartarone. “Some of these students come up to me and say ‘thank you. Thank you for making me aware of what’s out there.’”
For more than 600 truck drivers caught in Laredo alone since 2008, it’s the end of the road. Apart from jail time, they’ve lost their CDL for good.