The photos are jaw-dropping; hands peeking out of a washing machine, another person squirreled inside furniture.
They're from a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol bust at the San Ysidro Port of Entry last weekend in which federal agents found 11 Chinese nationals hiding inside furniture and appliances packed in a moving truck.
As hard as it is to imagine contorting your body to hide inside a washing machine, what's really incredible is how much human smugglers are getting paid to move people across the border.
Criminal defense attorney Marc Carlos said Chinese migrants are paying human traffickers significantly more to cross the border.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Carlos said. “And I have not seen the prices that high for crossing the border.”
Carlos said prices of smuggling Chinese migrants have skyrocketed, with average payments ranging from $40,000 to $60,000.
In comparison, the going rate for smuggling Latinos through the San Ysidro crossing is $6,000 to $10,000, according to Carlos.
The punishment for smuggling drugs across the border is much higher than the punishment for smuggling people. The latter carries a 3-year minimum mandatory sentence, compared to a 10-year sentence if you're caught trafficking drugs.
“The penalties are far less than smuggling drugs,” Carlos said. “It’s not anywhere near drugs. Not even close.”
That lower risk combined with a higher reward for smuggling Chinese migrants has manifested into what federal prosecutors call a perilous trend.
In a written statement, Mark Conover with the U.S. Attorney's Office said:
“We are seeing numerous Chinese nationals being smuggled into the U.S. in dangerous ways both in vehicles at ports of entry and on the ocean in boats and jet skis. The way in which these people are being smuggled puts their lives at risk and we are doing everything we can to deter this dangerous behavior.”
However, Carlos points out the defendants caught on our side of the border are essentially mules.
“The people who are making the money are in Mexico,” Carlos said. “And they are not coming across here.”