Human smuggling complementing drugs on U.S. 59

People instead of drugs. The bottom line is close to the same.

"ThE Mexican drug cartel and other people have turned it into a very lucrative business," said Sheriff Thomas Kerss. "So not only are they trying to smuggle illegal substances into the United States, but they're smuggling people."

Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry, with revenues estimated from $9 billion to $32 billion annually.

"They paid, we've been given sums that told us around $6,000 a piece," Kerss said.

This journey probably started in McAllen. As with drugs, the human cargo is transported north using the I-10 corridor and eventually Highway 59.

"We know they came across the border somewhere near McAllen with a larger group of people," Kerss said. "They were then dispersed into these smaller groups and they were sent out into different destination points."

Only two illegal aliens were Mexican nationals. The rest from Central America. Their origin can be from anywhere outside the U.S. borders. That's what concerns law enforcement.

"You can come from Middle Eastern countries or other countries that intend to do us harm and take those same routes and be smuggled into America as a terrorist," Kerss said.

The mode of travel varies. A mini van is traveling in luxury compared to more tragic human trafficking discoveries.

"It did not portray the horror stories that we have seen and heard about where they're just packed in the back of a box van," Kerss said.

They won't make their destination, but at least they're alive. Others being smuggled through the Pineywoods may not be so lucky.

Copyright 2011 KTRE. All rights reserved.