Can you figure out what this police x-ray captured?


At first it looks like a piece of abstract art. Then you start to make out human shapes. And it looks like a bunch of people wearing bathing suits and swim caps, maybe? But it’s not. This is a police X-ray image of a trailer truck containing 94 trafficking victims from Central America, Nepal and Bengladesh. The truck, which had started its trip in Guatemala and was headed towards towards the U.S. border, but was stopped at a checkpoint outside of Tixtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas State.

According to the Mexican National Migration Institute, or INM, 78 women and 16 men 78 men and 16 women were found in the truck. Of the 94, there were nine men and a woman from Nepal; nine men from Bangladesh; 37 men and eight women from Guatemala; 20 men and three women from El Salvador; and four women and three men from Honduras. According to the INM, all 94 were described as having “severe lesions on their hands and legs, as well as symptoms of suffocation.” Two of them received first aid and all of them were given food and water. The driver was arrested for trafficking. The fate of the people being trafficked, however, remains unclear. They have been detained. And, sadly, they will most likely be deported.



Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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  • Aislin Kageno

    You have a small typo in the last paragraph discussing the breakdown of people’s various backgrounds. You say there was a total of 78 women and 16 men in the trailer, but proceed to outline 78 men and 16 women. Just a heads up.

    Trafficking is a crime that is ignored all too much these days, as I feel that people in the modern western world have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of modern slavery. Stories and images like this really make it hit home in the most jarring way.

  • Alex Szele

    I think it’s important to remember the difference between human trafficking and undocumented immigration. The drivers were charged with trafficking most likely because it’s the harshest law that could be thrown at them, but from the links you included the people in the truck paid to be there.

    Trafficking generally connotes unwilling or abducted victims being pressed into slavery. These were people desperately trying to reach the US who paid large sums of money and willingly risked the terrible conditions they were enduring.

    It’s an absolutely tragic commentary on the conditions they were fleeing, and a sad statement on the ethics of the drivers who so mistreat their human “cargo,” but nothing in this story even approaches the pure unadulterated evil of true human trafficking.

    Frankly it makes me sick that countries are taking such hard line stances on immigrants now that they are charging people who try to help them as slavers.

  • Katie

    I don’t think the line between trafficking and undocumented immigration/migration is that clear. Nor does it depend on whether the people paid. It can also be defined as trafficking when exploitation occurs once the workers get to the job.

    Also, the UN includes “the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” These workers are certainly in a position of vulnerability.

    You are right that it’s different from the more kidnapping types of trafficking. But I don’t think it’s a cut and dry assessment.

    • Smiley


      I agree with Alex’s comment. And I think your reply is stretching things a little.

      I suspect most (all?) the people caught in the truck paid, voluntarily for the trip. True, their conditions at home are probably desperate. True, the ‘transport provider’ is making money from their plight.

      But someone who agrees voluntarily to engage on such a trip is not to be confused with someone who, for example, is kidnapped. By claiming that the two are in similar situations is demeaning to the person who is enslaved, and diminishes his or her torment.

      The difference is essentially one of consent. And the difference is huge.

    • Alex Szele

      Excellent points, Katie, and you are spot-on about the line being extremely gray and fuzzy.

      I guess the thing that gives me pause about throwing abusive migration “helpers” in with human traffickers is what happens at the end of the journey. Were the people in that truck destined to be released or pressed into indentured servitude / exploitative labor (well, exploitative beyond the standard exploitation of undocumented immigrants in the US…).

      I’m certainly not trying to diminish the criminality of people abusing their position of power over desperate migrants, but it absolutely diminishes the horror of slave-trade trafficking to put them on the same level.

      Abusive treatment on a journey is far different from abusive treatment with no end.