Sheriff: 26 migrants rescued, several in custody after human-smuggling operation is busted in south Bexar County (2024)

Deputies say they discovered the human smuggling victims in a "stifling hot" wooden structure that didn't have AC.

SAN ANTONIO — Bexar County officials say 26 human-smuggling victims were found and seven others taken into custody when law enforcement busted an operation on the far south side Thursday afternoon.

On a day when temperatures were threatening to reach triple-digits, Sheriff Javier Salazar said the migrants – the youngest of which is believed to be 18 – were found in a "stifling hot" wooden structure in the area of Loop 1604 and Oak Island Drive.

Authorities say there was no air conditioning inside the structure. Officials say several people found there were transported to local hospitals to be treated for heat-related ailments. As of Monday, all 12 patients brought to University Hospital had been discharged.

One woman identified as being from Guatemala reportedly paid $16,000 to be brought into the U.S.

Several agencies are involved in the ongoing investigation, including Homeland Security.

"It's under control, but it was a pretty chaotic situation," Salazar said, adding no one was found dead on Thursday. "Everybody is out of the woods as far as losing their life."

Sheriff: 26 migrants rescued, several in custody after human-smuggling operation is busted in south Bexar County (1) Sheriff: 26 migrants rescued, several in custody after human-smuggling operation is busted in south Bexar County (2)

Credit: KENS 5

Salazar said BCSO became aware of and established surveillance on a long gooseneck truck being used to smuggle the victims into town Thursday. The people inside, he says, were transported in a "false compartment" inside the truck on top of hard mesh for nearly three hours.

"That trailer, you can be stranding right up on it, and not know that thing contains 26 people. It drove by thousands of cars, easily, on that three-hour trip from the border."

Video provided by the agency shows the 26 migrants were just inches above the ground while traveling on the highway from Laredo more than 150 miles away.

Of the seven detained, it's still unclear who will be facing charges, according to Salazar. Several people initially fled the scene but BCSO believes everyone has now been accounted for.

"It's quite common for coyotes to pass themselves off as victims," he added. "Only when we start drawing information out of them can we determine this is not a victim, this is a bad guy."

Salazar called the wooden structure a "shack" with "spongy" floors and no running water. Inside, he said, were corrals that might be evidence of dogfighting or co*ckfighting.

Deputies also found several bulletproof vests and long rifles on the property, according to Salazar, who called the operation "clearly cartel-related."

"These guys, in some instances, are hiding in plain sight," he said. "In others, they’re under the radar. We’d use this as an opportunity to remind everybody: If you have information on a smuggling operation, give us a call at 210-335-6000."

>See the full update from Sheriff Salazar below:

Investigators busted a meth and gambling ring on the same block in 2015. And, last March, a man was arrested on allegations that he set several fires in the Oak Island community.

It's unclear if any of that is connected to the smuggling sting, which came two days after President Joe Biden unveiled plans to enact immediate significant restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as the White House tries to neutralize immigration as a political liability ahead of the November elections.

San Antonio was the site of the nation’s deadliest human smuggling episode in June 2022. Fifty-three migrants, including eight children, died after being trapped in a sweltering semi-trailer that had been driven from the border city of Laredo. The trailer had a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit. When authorities found it on a remote San Antonio road, 48 migrants were already dead and five more later died at hospitals. The dead migrants were from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg provided a statement via X on Thursday evening, saying he was "extremely grateful for our local first responders, both city and county, and their coordination throughout these efforts" while added the incident was "an unfortunate consequence of Congress insisting on an under-resourced border."

Extremely grateful for our local first responders, both city and county, and their coordination throughout these efforts.

Our hearts ache for the victims of this operation.

This is an unfortunate consequence of Congress insisting on an under-resourced border while ignoring… https://t.co/kynxEVtdzz

— Mayor Ron Nirenberg (@Ron_Nirenberg) June 6, 2024

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Sheriff: 26 migrants rescued, several in custody after human-smuggling operation is busted in south Bexar County (2024)

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