EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — It’s a billion dollar industry that rivals the profitability of trafficking illegal drugs. It’s human smuggling, and it’s happening in your city more often than you may think.

KTSM 9 was given exclusive access on the midnight shift in one of the busiest sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border. The radio buzzed with calls coming in of illegal crossings in the El Paso Sector.

Agent Valeria Morales said Cartels have been focusing on human smuggling because it’s extremely profitable.

“A lot of these Transnational Criminal Organizations push the limits because they are making a lot of money from human smuggling,” she said. “They charge between $8,000 and $15,000, depending on the person and where they are coming from.”

One of the migrants who was detained by Border Patrol said he paid $6,000 to come over from Mexico.

Agents told KTSM that the Mexican Cartel human smuggling operations are highly organized. They have spotters on the Mexican side of the border and stash houses in the United States where the Mexican Cartels setup networks to move migrants into the interior of the country.

“Everything going through their [the Cartels’] area they know,” Agent Fidel Baca said. “They know what’s going on. So everyone going through their area they have to pay a fee.”

Agent Morales said once the migrants get to the United States, they are transported by the Cartel network,

“They have pick up drivers in the United States. They recruit the youth to drive. They have stash house coordinators, people that transport these people form the stash houses to their final destination.”

According to Border Patrol, the agency busted 306 stash houses so far in Fiscal Year 2021. In those busts, agents apprehended more than 3,200 migrants. Those numbers are up from 66 busts and 487 migrants the year before, in Fiscal Year 2020.

Agent Morales said the smugglers promise customers safe passage into the United States but what they’re seeing is that the smugglers oftentimes abandon the very migrants who paid them to cross.

“They are leaving behind people that are hurt, females that can no longer keep up,” she said. “They are abandoned and stranded in the desert and it’s not always in urban areas. Sometimes they are abandoned in very rural areas where it takes hours or even days before they get to a highway.”

Agents said they do follow tracks are trained to look for signs in the sands: footprints that will tell them how many migrants and possible smugglers have passed through a certain area. But, smugglers are getting crafty when it comes to disguising their tracks.

“They’ll do things to the sole of the shoes to try to hid then. The most common thing we see are sponges. They will strap them to the bottom of their shoe,” Agent Baca said. “Some we refer to as ‘booties.’ They will wrap cloth around the shoes and I’ve even seen tampons to make it look like the footprint is old.”

Agent Baca said being an agent is a 24/7 job and can be  challenging, but he said it is a job that’s essential in keeping Americans safe.

“Border safety is national security,” he said. “We want to know everything going on because this is our lively hood. This is what we do.”

When asked if he thought that the job is a thankless one, considering the sentiment that comes from politicians and people in the country, Baca replied: “I think a lot of the jobs that matter are thankless. You don’t do it for the thanks — you do it because it’s your job and that’s what you’re here to do.”