Mexico on Thursday found close to 600 migrants packed into two trailers at a cargo terminal in southern Veracruz state, where they were in an unoccupied warehouse.
The migrants, from groups including Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, were crammed into the eight-foot-wide trailers with mattresses, chairs and blankets on top, according to state Interior Secretary Jorge Domene.
Images of the trailers showed men, women and children inside with lights off and curtains covering windows, and Domene said their identities and nationalities weren’t immediately known.
Domene added that he didn’t believe they had been abandoned.
Mexican authorities hadn’t announced the discovery of the migrants as late as Thursday night, but local media reported that police found them near the Jose Lopez Container Terminal in the town of Pueblo Viejo.
Some of the trucks and trailers, which are used by farmers, are virtually unscratched. Others show evidence of human and animal abuse, and lack basic protections like security cameras. Domene said the migrants had suffered “very serious wounds.”
Trucks or trailers without big cargo-holding capacity are at increasing risk of violence and human trafficking.
Many truck drivers have little incentive to prevent these threats because authorities rarely prosecute them.
“It’s just their opinion,” Domene said of how authorities could prevent these crimes. “That’s the way it has been.”
On Thursday, a long white bus was parked at the terminal carrying some of the migrants. The driver of the bus couldn’t be reached for comment, but Domene said the migrants got on board and rode to Guadalajara, about 90 miles to the north. They departed on the return leg later that day.
Mexico and the United States signed an agreement last week outlining immigration control measures that Mexican authorities said they would carry out on their territory.
The agreement, and a separate agreement on prosecution of migrants that President Enrique Pena Nieto and U.S. President Donald Trump signed in the White House, promised to expedite the process for U.S. immigration authorities to send undocumented immigrants to Mexico for deportation.
The officials said they would also offer money, shelters and health services to help migrants stay in Mexico.
Enrique Sarmiento, the director of Grupo Beta, Mexico’s government body that deals with immigration, said the agreement would extend to Mexican immigration agents in every region of the country.
“In this context, any violation or abuse of migrants will, as we say, have a significant sanction,” Sarmiento said.
But human rights groups argue the agreement gives Mexico too much latitude to return migrants to potentially deadly conditions in their home countries.
Jose Antonio Díaz Valcarcel, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, warned of a “domino effect” that could lead to a wave of deportations to the U.S.’s Central American neighbors.