Traffic stop turns into human smuggling investigation - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Traffic stop turns into human smuggling investigation

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Its video you will only see on FOX 7. A traffic stop uncovers several people being smuggled through Travis County. Our news crew was there as it all unfolded.

It's not something you see every day. Ten people crammed in an SUV, then unloaded at the Chevron station along I-35 and East 6th Street. But a research program coordinator at the University of Texas says this type of situation happens under the radar all the time.

"The trip can be incredibly dangerous. Both the trip up through Mexico, where people are often times riding on top of trains, and once they get to the United States where often times people are put into one car. Or many times people are put into one type of housing facility," said Laurie Cook-Heffron, University of Texas, School of Social Work.

FOX 7 was there from the start to capture Wednesday's incident.

Travis County Constable Precinct 2 tells us deputies were conducting a traffic stop, but it quickly turned into a human smuggling investigation. We're told eight passengers were being smuggled through Travis County.

In the video you can see them sitting down by gas pumps as they wait to be checked by ICE agents.

During this time, a tow truck hauls off the suspect vehicle, which is a dark green Tahoe. Passengers receive a pat-down from head to toe before being put in a van by authorities. At the same time, two suspected smugglers are put in handcuffs and loaded into another vehicle.

"People have a wide variety of reasons for why they might come to the United States and pay a smuggler to help them get across the border. A lot of times people are looking for a better life. A lot of times they are looking for better work and better pay, to help pay for health care costs for their children or school for their children," said Cook-Heffron.

She says human smuggling is when somebody crosses a border illegally but it is often confused with human trafficking, which is known as modern-day slavery. Although different crimes, one can lead to another.

"Someone can be smuggled across the border and then when trying to pay out their smuggling debt to the smuggler, they become vulnerable to being trafficked and be forced into some kind of work or sex trade. So they often times overlap," said Cook-Heffron.

APD says those who are smuggled may be given a part-time visa to help in the investigation as a witness, other times they might be sent back to their country.

As for smugglers, they could face a state jail felony. If they are paid for their work or cause harm then it turns into a third degree felony.

Police say they use anonymous tips to help in human smuggling or trafficking busts. Their officers are also trained to detect signs. If you see anything suspicious you're asked to call them.

If you are a victim or know someone who is being victimized you can get information from these sites:

Allies against Slavery - http://www.alliesagainstslavery.org

Central Texas Coalition against Human Trafficking - www.ctcaht.org

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