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In the case of Mexico’s southern border, no one can say exactly who the organized smuggling groups are. Some say that large transport rings operate separately from Mexico’s brutal drug gangs, such as the Zetas or the Gulf Cartel, who stick to kidnapping and extortion.

Some say they are all in collusion, including authorities. Both local police and federal immigration agents have been arrested in recent raids on kidnapping operations in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas.

“It’s clear that they’re immigration agents, federal police, Zetas, maras, the whole gamut, along with local crime groups,” said the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest who runs a migrant shelter in Oaxaca. “Those who make money off migrants are all part of the same mafia.”

Immigration authorities in Chiapas said the migrants couldn’t say where they crossed from Guatemala and wouldn’t say how they contacted their smugglers, much less whether the smugglers were part of a larger organized group.

Some suffered from dehydration after traveling for hours clinging to cargo ropes strung inside the containers to keep them upright, allowing more migrants to be crammed in.

Air holes had been punched in the tops of the containers, but migrants interviewed at the state prosecutors’ office said they lacked air and water. The trucks were bound for the central city of Puebla, where the migrants said they had been told they would be loaded aboard a second set of vehicles for the trip to the U.S. border.

Loads of this size may have been crossing for some time. The difference now is that the blank white trucks passed through an X-ray machine and then took off, refusing to stop once authorities saw what was inside. They were chased about 10 miles until police cut them off.

Police arrested four people in the case.

“We don’t know how many immigration checkpoints there were before that,” said Hector Sipac, the Guatemalan consul in Mexico City, noting that any number of similar loads could have been waved through.

State authorities say they have had two checkpoints in Tuxtla Gutierrez with permanent X-ray machines for just under two years. A year ago, the federal government provided two more that are mobile and can be used around the state by the army, navy and immigration officers.

While the permanent stations have netted the largest groups of migrants, the mobile machines have caught loads of drugs and other contraband, plus smaller groups of migrants, said state government spokesman Jose Luis Coutino.

Still, nothing seems to stop people from seeking the American dream.

“We’re seeing a rise in recent months. The apprehensions are happening almost daily, though this is the second large one,” said Juan Jose Gonzalez, the head of the nonprofit group Southern Border Movement. “And each time the smugglers charge more to move people north.”