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Human smuggling exposed by truck x-ray

People packed like sardines in a van trying to enter the U.S.
An x-ray shows more than 500 people packed into two trucks in southern Mexico. Chiapas state government website

by Susana Seijas, a CBS News producer based in Mexico

The x-ray photo says it all: more than 500 migrants packed into trucks like sardines, as many as 4 people per 1 square meter, some crouching, others standing and holding onto ropes from the truck's rooftop. The reality of human smuggling brutally exposed in the migrant's subhuman travelling conditions.

The 513 migrants, many suffering from dehydration from the perilous journey from Guatemala, were intercepted in two trailer trucks at a checkpoint in Mexico's southern Chiapas state where the x-ray was taken.

X-rays of trucks show human smuggling in Mexico

Mexico's National Immigration Institute reports finding thousands of migrants en route to the United States every year.

In recent weeks, the Institute has been under intense scrutiny due to allegations that Mexican migration agents were in cahoots with Mexico's bloodthirsty criminal organizations in kidnapping and committing abuses against migrants. Salvador Beltran del Rio, the head of Mexico's National Immigration Institute, recently fired top immigration agents after reports of collusion with kidnappers.

The reshuffle of top agents came after weeks of gory news of the discovery of mass graves in San Fernando, Tamaulipas (just 90 kms from Brownsville, Texas) where authorities found more than 183 decomposing bodies, many of whom were suspected migrants. There was a further discovery of 218 bodies in shallow graves in Durango state.

The Chiapas migrant shipment is the biggest one authorities have come across in years.

Mexico's National Immigration Institute reports that of the 513 migrants, 32 were women and 4 children. The Institute reported that of the 240 people found in the first truck, 211 were from Guatemala, 19 from El Salvador, 6 from Ecuador and 3 from China and one person from Japan. The Japanese Embassy in Mexico City told CBS News that there was no one aboard the trucks with Japanese citizenship.

In the second truck authorities found 273 people, of these 199 from Guatemala, 28 from El Salvador, 26 from Ecuador, 12 from India, 6 from Nepal, as well as one person from Honduras and another from the Dominican Republic.

According to Mexico's Attorney General's Office (known here as the PGR) each migrant would have to pay up to $ 7,000 USD on arrival in the United States, where migrants risk their lives being smuggled to in order to find work.

"This a huge business and there is a huge demand for this service," said Antonio Mazzitelli, the head of the UN office on Drugs and Crime for Mexico and Central America, "and there is absolutely no risk for the smugglers. There are hardly any convictions, no investigation and almost totally impunity. The risk is all on the migrants."

In this recent migrant shipment, Mazzitelli added, authorities were able to confirm the presence of non-Latinos being smuggled - "this confirms the existence of powerful international smuggling rings that operate from Asia to Latin America in order to reach the United States," Mazzitelli told CBS News.

Smugglers charge migrants anywhere from 7,000 to 25,000 USD per person, many migrants end up exploited and working in kind. "This is when smuggling of migrants crosses into human trafficking," added Mazzitelli.

The National Immigration Institute confirmed today that the 513 rescued migrants are being taken to a migration center run by the Institute in Tapachula, Chiapas on the border with Guatemala. At the center they will receive medical attention and will be visited by consular representatives from their respective countries, and will not be deported as such immediately as the Institute says they have a procedure to adhere to.

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