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"It's out of a horror film": We asked Latinos who migrated to the U.S. in the backs of trucks to share their stories

Extreme heat, claustrophobia, abuse and death: More than 150 Univision News readers told us about their dangerous journeys to the United States aboard packed tractor-trailers.
28 Jul 2017 – 04:59 PM EDT

Last weekend, authorities discovered a gruesome scene in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas: 10 migrants died in the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer that had traveled from Laredo, along the Mexican border.

Despite the dangers, riding aboard a truck is a common way for migrants to enter the United States, and has resulted in death before. Univision News asked readers to share their experiences crossing the border or traveling towards the U.S. packed into one of these trucks.

We received over 150 stories, many from people who requested to remain anonymous. Some of the testimonies seemed to come out of a horror film. People described the feeling of claustrophobia inside, the oppressive heat and hunger and the sound of people suffocating. They told of pills being administered to kids to prevent them from going to the bathroom. And they explained scenes of accidents and death. Some traveled in trucks full of onions and bananas; others amid plastic bags and empty boxes. Some watched women get assaulted, were assaulted themselves, or abandoned by smugglers.

Here is a selection of their stories:

The man who sucked air through a hole in the ceiling

“We were told that there would only be 40 people inside. When we went to board the truck we realized that we were double that. We were huddled together. It was uncomfortable, we couldn’t move because the truck was full. About five hours later there was a blackout and the air conditioning broke. It was one of those trucks that carries cold things, but when the air went out it heated up. It was the morning and it got super, super, super, super hot. I don’t remember exactly, but at least two people fainted. They were between 18 and 30. When they fainted we told the guide to try to get the driver’s attention. He tried but the driver didn’t respond. Two hours later someone took out a small axe or a knife. He opened a hole in the top of the truck and the truck basically deflated. It was filled with air inside. But we had to wait for them to open the door for four more hours. All this happened in Mexico, although they never told us where we were going. I was too scared. When we crossed the border they gave us boxes of Mexican money to deliver. Now I understand that is what it means to be a mule.”

Alex Torres, 24-year-old Salvadoran. He crossed in 2009 at age 16.
The man who won't forget the smell of urine

“I went from Tabasco to Reynosa with some 170 people, including kids. We were in there for 70 hours. Imagine: they gave us two buckets in case someone wanted to pee. The children could not stand it. When the truck braked, the urine spilled and got all over everyone. That was horrible: the bad smell, that heat, it puts your whole body to sleep. The trailer had air, but it was broken. There was a guide with us and he called for the driver to stop to make holes in the side of the truck. I bet those poor guys (the immigrants who died in the truck found in San Antonio) didn’t have anyone helping them. I bet the driver didn’t hear them.”

Nicaraguan immigrant. He crossed in October 2016 and now lives in Florida, undocumented.
The woman who is grateful the truck she traveled in crashed

“We came from Honduras, I think we were approximately 80 people in that truck, which was filled with rubber mats. The accident happened when we were entering Mexico, on the border with Guatemala. We hadn’t gotten anywhere, maybe 10 minutes, when the truck crashed and fell on its side. I thought it was a dream. I don’t remember anything. When I woke up, I heard screams, prayers. I had left behind my 5-year-old son and in that minute I thought of him and I woke up. I thought: ‘I have to make it for him.’ I wanted to live. The ambulance arrived and they took me, the only thing I wanted was to sleep and drink water. I fractured eight ribs. But there were two people, two Salvadoran guys, who died. It was in the news. I’m grateful for the accident because we were all suffocating, there was no way to breathe. I think that if we hadn’t gotten in an accident, we all would have died in there. That was May. In September I tried again. But that time I didn’t dare go in a trailer. I tell people not to do it because it’s horrible. It traumatizes you.”

Alba, 35, crossed in 2004. She lives with her husband and kids in New York.
The woman who was raped by smugglers

“We came from Honduras. We crossed through Mexico and through Houston. We were about 20 people, including a 6-year-old girl, in the truck. It’s a desperate situation, you cannot stand the heat. People start to cry, you’re completely desperate. I had a really bad time because you cannot move inside, your feet fall asleep, it's uncomfortable. I traveled alone, but I met several people from other countries. I was 19-years-old. I was very scared. I left my country because I had a bad experience, I was raped. [And I was raped] in Mexico and Houston, too. I have not talked much about it, it’s hard to think about those memories, so I try to forget. It has not been easy. It’s easy to think you’re not going to make it, that you’re going to die, but here we are.”

Twenty-six-year-old immigrant who lives in North Carolina.
The man who crossed in a truck full of drugs

"I was alone with the driver in the truck, but it was full of marijuana. I was scared because I didn’t know anything, it was the first time I crossed into the United States and I was surprised by everything happening. I was in shock, I didn’t know what to think. I just knew that if we got caught we would go to jail and, with the quantity of drugs we were carrying, we wouldn’t get out for a long time. It was a lot. More than 20 kilos maybe? We stopped to eat. I remember [the driver] invited me to eat at an American restaurant. I hadn’t eaten like in two days. He said: ‘Get whatever you want.’ But I remember that I didn’t know what to do. I got a burrito with french fries. I was my first time eating a burrito.”

Álvaro, from Mexico City. Lives in North Carolina. He crossed through Nuevo Laredo 12 years ago.
The man who sucked a lemon to keep from fainting

“We crossed from Reynosa [Mexico] to McAllen [Texas] in a moving truck. It had Texas plates. We were 47 people, and it was really uncomfortable. At 3 p.m. the heat is intense, it was so hot. It wasn’t more than 15 minutes after we started that people started to faint because of the heat. The truck was completely sealed with plastic, it was thick, like nylon. In that enclosed place you couldn’t avoid fainting, I felt I couldn’t breathe. I remembered I had saved a lemon in my bag, so I started to suck it, to smell it. I made a small hole in the side of the plastic and I put my nose there. That’s how I kept from fainting. Of the 47 of us, I think just 15 people didn’t faint. It was really difficult. We were in there for an hour-and-a-half. When we got to McAllen they threw water on the people who had fainted. Some of them didn’t react. I can’t tell you today if those people are alive or dead.”

Otto Vladimir Sánchez, 44, Salvadoran. He crossed in 2009 and lives in Texas.
The man who thought he was in a horror movie

“I traveled the whole way through Mexico in a truck, in four different trucks. In the one from Puebla to Zacatecas we were 243 people. It was a 52-foot tractor-trailer, one of the longest ones, that usually carries meats, fruits. It’s supposed to be cool inside but the air conditioning had broken and we almost died from lack of oxygen. It reminded me of a movie, “The Death Truck” (“El Camión de la Muerte”), where immigrants die. That’s how it is. You see death close. The small is horrible: people haven’t bathed, rotten feet, armpits, bad breath, people going to the bathroom. The oxygen is bad. You’re not even breathing oxygen -- it’s something else. The body wants to pass out. When we arrived to the ranch and they opened the door so we could get out, the way people left ... it’s not like when people leave the stadium. It was an avalanche of people.”

Jose Ernesto Peña, 42. Former soldier in El Salvador. Lives in Massachusetts.
The man who prefers to forget

“I crossed when I was 14. I was with my two younger brothers, who were 8 and 7. We were 10 people, everyone laying on top of each other like sardines. We had pieces of wood on top of us so that no one could see us and we had to hold them tight. Sometimes the wind seemed to take them, but we held on with our fingers. It was hard. When we saw lights in the mountains I told my brothers that their parents lived where those lights were, so they weren’t scared. Often I have very detailed memories and other times they are more fleeting. I’ve tried to stuff down those memories. I don’t want them with me.”

Gerardo Arizmendi, who lives in North Carolina, crossed through Nogales twice with his brothers.
The man who's still angry at the coyotes

“The people that bring you here promise you many things: that it will be fine, that you will eat well … but they nearly kill you during the trip. It’s 100% a scam, they offer everything and it’s all lies. They get really violent during the trip. It was so hot, you feel desperate from the heat. You’re thirsty, hungry, hot. It’s really hard to make it. I took two trucks to get here. The second was a bit better because it was full of vegetables, which helps you feel less suffocated. Everyone had to get into the truck through the bottom, next to the tires, one-by-one. We were 35 people on top of eachother. We had to breathe out of a tiny window, we had to take turns breathing.”

Anonymous immigrant.
The woman who can't forget the little kids

“I came from Mexico. We had to pass from San Isidro to San Diego, and that’s when we were in the truck. It was a number of hours, it was dark, very long, it was really full. The coyotes yelled at everyone, using bad words. But what I won’t forget is that there were so many little kids. There were women with babies in their arms. The coyotes gave them a pill so that they would go to sleep. It’s sad. That experience changes you.”

Undocumented woman who crossed in 1995
The man who migrated via every mode of transportation imaginable and says the truck was the worst

“I’m from Ecuador. I took every type of transportation you can imagine to get to Los Angeles: a boat, a canoe, I walked, took buses, went in the truck. It took two-and-a-half-months. But of the entire experience, the truck was the hardest. I can handle it if I can’t eat for a few days, or if I have to sleep outside. But the truck was unbearable. Truthfully, I regret taking the truck. We left in the morning. It was big in there, covered with empty boxes of oranges, and there was no oxygen. We were 120 people in that truck for 10 hours, and we all wanted to breathe. The heat was very, very intense, like 140 degrees. There were people fainting, everyone was sweating, taking off their clothes. We were all basically naked. It’s like having something around your neck choking you and you’re about to die. When we got there it was nighttime and it was freezing. Like winter. That was my experience. Just for the American dream.”

Immigrant from Ecuador, 52. He crossed 17 years ago and lives in New York.
The man who went from freezing cold to sweltering hot

They put us in a trailer, a truck, whatever you want to call it. It was half full of plastic bags. They closed us in there, it was so dark, the floors were frozen. It was about 10:30 or 11 at night, and we were all freezing and hungry. We got very close to one another to feel body heat. We were dying of hunger and it was quiet, so you could hear everyone’s stomach grumbling. After two hours, the sun started coming up and it began to get hot. It got really hot, we were so thirsty. Around 5:00 p.m. they let us out of that oven, they brought us to a house and gave us a sausage with bread.”

Angelberto Rodríguez, from Mexico. He lives and works in Oregon. He crossed in 2009, when he was 17.
The man who watched two people die and women get abused

“I went from Tapachula to Puebla [Mexico]. It was an 18-hour trip. It was full of vegetable boxes in the back in case the police opened the door. After about 10 hours people couldn’t take it anymore. When the truck stopped we banged on the door so the police would hear us. People couldn’t breathe. I remember I had to give mouth-to-mouth to an Ecuadorian man. An hour later the truck stopped. It was so hot. We all went to the door to breathe. Two people were choking. We were breathing through a 50 centimeter hole in the floor. They just let us bring a few bowls of water, one or two liters. For the women it’s so dangerous because of the coyotes. The women suffer a lot. They slept with the coyotes, who touched them. The women yelled but who could do anything? You just didn’t look. We left behind two people who died.”

Guatemalan immigrant who crossed in 2005. He was deported and lives in Jutiapa, Guatemala.
The man who went into debt to take a nightmare journey

“I spent six hours in the trailer. I paid $10,000 in total to cross. I had to sell land and one of my brothers had to give me money. I crossed through Nuevo Laredo. We waited for a month-and-a-half at a store, paying $100 every three days. Then they brought us in a trailer with 99 people. There was no water, no nothing. We got on around 8:00 p.m. and we got to San Antonio at 2:30 in the morning. There was no air. I was laying face down, and everyone just kept getting on, more and more. It’s a horrible thing. When we got to the U.S., to San Antonio, we paid the rest of the money. I had to pay $5,000, and everyone went their own way. It was $2,500 at the border. $2,500 to cross the river. And $5,000 for the truck. Truthfully I wouldn’t do it again: not the truck nor the river. The water is really strong and there’s nothing to protect you, it’s risky. There are holes in the river that pull you down like eddies. It’s a terrible thing, really.”

Mexican immigrant, 30, who lives in Wisconsin. He crossed in October 2016.

These are just some of the stories that readers shared with Univision News. Their testimonies have been edited for clarity and length and were complemented by telephone interviews. Due to the nature of the stories, Univision was unable to independently verify the aforementioned trips. Did you travel in trailer to the U.S.? Share your story with us now.

Here's what else migrants told us:

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