Human smuggling in Tampa Bay: What’s driving the spike?

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Just days after 8 On Your Side first reported on the recent spike in human smuggling across the Tampa Bay area, the Florida Highway Patrol released new dashcam video showing troopers stop yet another vehicle illegally bringing undocumented migrants to Florida. So what is drawing migrants to the Sunshine State?

The new dashcam video shows troopers pull over a vehicle for illegal window tinting on Tuesday. One by one, the seven men inside were separated.

According to the arrest report, the men entered the U.S. illegally in Arizona and paid to be transported to Florida.  

This is the fifth human smuggling case on Interstate 75 in a span of two weeks.

Troopers say six men were returned to the U.S. Border Patrol. One was arrested for human smuggling.

“This is called a coyote process, the people who bring them are called coyotes, they do it for pay,” said Bob Sichta, an immigration attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida.

According to Sichta, the border is currently flooded with migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba and Mexico. Many headed specifically to Florida are looking for work in agriculture.

“We grow half the United States’ use of tomatoes here in Florida,” Sichta explained. “Some growers are being fooled by them because they are given fake IDs by the coyotes. Some of the growers are in league with them, not very many, but it doesn’t take very many for this to happen.”

So how reliant is this industry on undocumented workers?

Data from New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization, shows Florida had more than 43,000 agriculture workers in 2019, and 42% were undocumented. That’s more than two out of five workers.

“When they work out in the fields, this is work nobody wants,” said Sichta. “They are doing essential things and they’re doing them at a lower cost.”

Agriculture is huge here in Florida. Experts say, without these migrant workers, we could see the prices for tomatoes, strawberries and citrus going up at the grocery store.

Meanwhile, Sichta says work isn’t the only draw for migrants. Many are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.

“Things are unsafe in these places,” said Sichta.  “They have some of the greatest food shortages you’ve ever seen – particularly in places like Venezuela.”

“They have more gang violence and domestic relations violence you’ve ever seen in the Central American spine.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

get the app

News App

Weather App

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss