Nearly every freight train crossing the border from Mexico into El Paso, Texas, has illegal immigrants on it, marking a major increase in one of the more dangerous methods of jumping the boundary, Customs and Border Protection said Monday.
CBP officers, who monitor the ports of entry, said they’ve nabbed 292 illegal immigrants on freight trains at El Paso’s two crossings since Oct. 30. That’s up 62% compared to the 181 people caught during the same time the previous year.
And just two years ago, CBP caught only 50 people sneaking in by train, the agency said.
“People are climbing on rail cars and hiding in places not designed to accommodate human beings,” said CBP Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha. “Fortunately, we have yet to encounter anyone who has been maimed while attempting this, but I am afraid that at some point we will.”
Migrants have been found riding on top of cars or holding on to the undercarriage just above the railway tracks.
The train lines also serve as a method for illegal immigrants to get deeper into the U.S. once they’ve jumped the border. The Washington Times reported last year on the rise in those cases.
In those cases the trains are a way to get around highway checkpoints, which act as a secondary wall, hindering illegal immigrants’ attempts to get beyond border communities.
Border authorities said the rise in railway smuggling attempts is both troubling and dangerous. While port officers haven’t reported major mishaps, Border Patrol agents, who patrol beyond the ports, have documented a number of serious injuries.
One illegal immigrant had his foot severed last summer by trying to jump on a moving train in the U.S.
Other times migrants are pushed down into grain hopper cars, designed for hauling coal or feed, which can be tough to get out of without a ladder. Those are so dangerous that each person pulled from a grain hopper is tallied as an official rescue in Border Patrol statistics.