A truck driver is being charged with human trafficking after eight people were found dead in a tractor trailer last week. The rig, which was parked at a Walmart in San Antonio, was being used to illegally transport immigrants. In addition to the eight victims, nearly 40 more passengers needed emergency medical treatment; two more died in the hospital. Human trafficking is a serious crime, and due to the severity of this particular tragedy, the truck driver may face the death penalty.
The victims died due to heat-related injuries after spending about 12 hours in the back of an unventilated trailer. The criminal complaint against the driver, 60-year-old James Bradley, stated that, ”During the first hour of transportation, everyone seemed to be OK. Later, people started having trouble breathing and some started to pass out. People began hitting the trailer walls and making noise to get the driver’s attention. The driver never stopped.”
According to reports, the immigrants were informed that the trailer they were traveling in would be refrigerated. One of the survivors told agents that when they got inside in Laredo, Mexico the trailer was already quite hot. There was a hole in the wall of the trailer, and the passengers took turns breathing through it to prevent succumbing to the lack of air and passing out. Bradley alleges that he was unaware of the truck’s contents; he had no idea that he was driving human cargo. However, he does admit his knowledge of the broken refrigeration and ventilation systems.
Bradley claims to have stopped at Walmart for a bathroom break when he heard “banging and shaking in the trailer.” He opened the door and discovered “bodies just lying on the floor like meat.” Bradley went on to say that approximately 30-40 able-bodied survivors ran from the empty parking lot. However, at least one of the immigrants said that there were about 70 more passengers in the trailer, and that they left in six black SUVs that were in the parking lot when they were freed.
What is Human Trafficking?
Any act involving the smuggling of humans – usually across international borders – can be considered human trafficking. In the worst cases, it is a form of modern-day slavery, using coercion, manipulation, lies, and physical force to make vulnerable people perform labor or sex acts. Millions of people – women and children included – are trafficked every year. It’s one of the most profitable international crimes, second only to the illegal drug trade. Traffickers look for individuals who are especially vulnerable due to political instability, lack of a social network, and poverty. However, human trafficking doesn’t always have to involve forced labor or sexual exploitation. As in the San Antonio tragedy, the act of smuggling people into the United States is itself a form of human trafficking. Whether or not these individuals were facing forced labor or sexual exploitation is unknown.
Penalties for Human trafficking
In MA, anyone convicted of human trafficking will face a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, with a maximum of 20 years. If convicted, the individual may also have to pay a fine of up to $25,000. This penalty may increase to life in prison if any of the victims are under the age of 18, with a minimum prison sentence of 10 years. No parole is available in such a situation.
In 2003, a truck driver was convicted of human trafficking when 19 people were killed in a similar manner to this most recent case in San Antonio. He received a 34-year prison sentence for his actions.