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Seven suspected migrant smugglers were arrested and eleven migrants were hospitalized following a police operation near San Antonio

AUSTIN, Texas – Eleven people were hospitalized and seven smuggling suspects were arrested Thursday after authorities found more than two dozen migrants crammed into a secret compartment of a trailer with little water and sweltering heat.

Acting on a tip about a smuggling operation, authorities followed the trailer as it was towed to a rural home outside San Antonio, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said.

A total of 26 migrants were found in the shelter, which Salazar described as a “shack” with holes in the floor and no water. Of those, 11 were taken to hospital with heat-related and minor injuries, Salazar said.

The migrants stayed in the trailer’s secret compartment for three hours, Salazar said. Temperatures in San Antonio were just under 35 degrees on Thursday afternoon and were expected to rise to over 38 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

No specific information has been released on the condition of the hospitalized migrants, but Salazar said: “We believe that everyone is over the hill in terms of the loss of their lives.”

The smuggling operation came two days after President Joe Biden announced plans to impose significant restrictions on asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, effective immediately, as the White House seeks to neutralize immigration as a political liability ahead of the November election.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has been at odds with the Biden administration over immigration policy for years. Abbott launched Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar state border security effort that led to court battles with the federal government over river buoys and razor wire to prevent migrants from crossing the Rio Grande and other border-related measures. Texas has also bused tens of thousands of migrants to Democratic-run cities across the U.S.

In June 2022, the country’s deadliest human smuggling incident occurred in San Antonio. 53 migrants, including eight children, died after becoming trapped in a sweltering semi-trailer coming from the border city of Laredo. The trailer’s air conditioning was malfunctioning. By the time authorities found it on a remote road in San Antonio, 48 migrants were already dead, and five more later died in hospitals. The dead migrants were from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

All of the migrants found Thursday appeared to be adults, Salazar said. The nationality of most of them was not immediately known, but one woman told authorities she was from Guatemala and had paid $16,000 to be brought to the United States.

Salazar said he did not know when the migrants crossed the border, but assumed they were driven into the area from Laredo, about 260 kilometers away.

Salazar blamed Mexican cartels for the operation, which was dismantled Thursday, and pointed out that bulletproof vests and rifles were found on the property. Some of those found at the residence fled, but authorities believed they had caught everyone involved.

“This clearly has something to do with the cartels,” said Salazar. “The blame lies with the bloodthirsty organizations that bring them here and put them in danger.”

Salazar noticed how well the migrants were hidden during their transport.

“You could be standing right next to it and not know there are 26 people inside that thing,” Salazar said. “They’re hiding right in front of us.”

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Associated Press reporter Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas, contributed.

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