It was the deadliest tragedy to take the lives of migrants who smuggled across the Mexican border.
The driver of the truck and two other people were arrested, US MP Henry Cuelar from Texas told the Associated Press.
He said the truck had passed a Border Patrol checkpoint northeast of Laredo, Texas, at Interstate 35. He did not know if there were any immigrants inside the truck when he cleared the checkpoint.
Investigators have located the truck at a San Antonio home and arrested two Mexican men for possession of a firearm, according to criminal charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The complaints made no specific allegations about the deaths.
The bodies were discovered Monday afternoon on the outskirts of San Antonio when a city official heard a cry for help from a truck parked on a lonely street and found the gruesome scene inside, said Police Chief William McManus. Hours later, body bags were lying on the ground.
More than a dozen people – their bodies warm to the touch – were taken to hospitals, including four children. Most of the dead were men, he said.
The death toll was the highest ever from a smuggling attempt in the United States, according to Craig Larabi, the current special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in San Antonio.
“This is a horror that goes beyond anything we have experienced in the past,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nuremberg. “And unfortunately it is a tragedy that can be prevented.”
President Joe Biden described the deaths as “frightening and heartbreaking”.
“The exploitation of vulnerable people for profit is shameful, as is the political dignity surrounding the tragedy, and my government will continue to do everything possible to prevent smugglers and traffickers from exploiting people seeking to enter.” in the United States between ports of entry “. Biden said in a statement.
Authorities did not know the countries of origin of all the migrants, nor how long they had been abandoned on the side of the road.
By Tuesday afternoon, medical examiners had probably identified 34 of the victims, but were taking additional measures, such as fingerprints, to confirm the identities, said Béxar County Commissioner Rebecca Clay-Flores.
Among the dead, 27 are believed to be of Mexican descent based on documents they brought, according to Rubén Minutti, Mexico’s consul general in San Antonio. Several survivors were in critical condition with injuries such as brain damage and internal bleeding, he said.
At least seven of the dead were from Guatemala and two from Honduras, Roberto Velasco vlvarez, head of North America’s Mexico External Relations Department, said on Twitter. About 30 people had arrived at the Mexican consulate in search of loved ones, officials said.
Authorities confirmed that one of the Mexicans who survived the trailer was José Luis Guzmán Vásquez, 32, from San Miguel Huautla in southern Oaxaca, according to Aida Ruiz García, director of the Oaxacan Institute for Migrant Attention. He was dehydrated and was driving to a San Antonio hospital, Mexico’s foreign affairs department said.
One of his cousins, Alejandro Lopez, told Milenio television that the family worked in agriculture and construction and emigrated because “we have nothing but to weave hats, palm trees and crafts.”
Attempts to cross the US border from Mexico have cost thousands of lives in both countries in recent decades.
U.S. border authorities stop immigrants more often at the southern border than at any time in at least two decades. Immigrants stopped almost 240,000 times in May, an increase of one-third from a year earlier.
Comparisons with pre-pandemic levels are complex because migrants expelled under a public health authority known as Title 42 face no legal consequences, encouraging repeated efforts. Authorities say 25% of meetings in May were with people who had stopped at least once in the past year.
South Texas has long been the busiest area for illegal border crossings. U.S. authorities are discovering trucks with immigrants in “very close” to everyday life, Larrabee said.
Immigrants typically pay $ 8,000 to $ 10,000 to be transported across the border and loaded onto a tractor-trailer and driven to San Antonio, where they are transported in smaller vehicles to their final destinations in the United States, he said.
Conditions vary widely, including the amount of water passengers receive and whether they are allowed to carry cell phones, Larrabee said.
Authorities believe the truck that was discovered Monday had mechanical problems when it was left next to a railroad track in an area of San Antonio surrounded by garbage dumping on a busy highway, said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. county official. which includes San Antonio.
San Antonio has been a recurring scene of tragedy and despair in recent years with immigrants in semi-trailers.
Ten immigrants lost their lives in 2017 after being trapped inside a truck parked in a San Antonio Walmart. In 2003, the bodies of 19 migrants were found in a drowned truck southeast of the city. More than 50 migrants were found alive in a trailer in 2018, led by a man who said he had to pay $ 3,000 and was sentenced to more than five years in prison.
Awful. Just awful. We have been afraid of another tragedy like this for months. With borders closed as tightly as they do today for migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, people are being pushed into increasingly dangerous routes. Truck smuggling has increased.
– Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) June 28, 2022
Other tragedies occurred long before migrants arrived in the United States In December, more than 50 people were killed when a semi-trailer overturned on a highway in southern Mexico. In October the Mexican authorities reported that they found 652 migrants packed in six trailers stopped at a military checkpoint near the border.
Some of the 16 people taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses remained in hospital on Tuesday in critical condition.
Those taken to hospital were hot and dehydrated and no water was found in the trailer, said fire chief Charles Hood.
“They were suffering from heatstroke and exhaustion,” Hood said. “It was a tractor-trailer refrigerator, but there was no visible AC unit on this platform.”
Temperatures in San Antonio on Monday approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Large platforms emerged as a popular method of smuggling in the early 1990s, amid increased U.S. border enforcement in San Diego and El Paso, Texas.
Before that, people paid small wages to cross a largely unguarded border. As transit became much more difficult after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, immigrants were driven into more dangerous territory and had to pay thousands of dollars.
Some supporters have been linked to the Biden government’s border policies. Aaron Reichlin-Melnik, policy director at the American Immigration Council, wrote that he feared such a tragedy for months.
“With borders closed as tightly as they do today for migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, people are being pushed into increasingly dangerous routes,” he wrote on Twitter.
During a vigil in the rain on Tuesday night in a San Antonio park, many of the more than 50 people in attendance expressed grief, frustration and anger over the deaths and what they described as a damaged immigration system.
“I see this happening and it should not have happened. If we had a better way for browns and blacks to enter safely, they would not go through these desperate measures,” said San Antonio resident Debbie Ponce.
Immigrants – mostly from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – have been deported more than 2 million times under the March 2020 pandemic rule that denies them asylum. The Biden government planned to end the policy, but a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the move in May.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 557 deaths at its southwestern border in the 12 months to September 30, more than double the 247 deaths reported last year and the highest since it began monitoring in 1998. Most were related to a report in the heat.
Spagat reported from San Diego. Associated Press reporters Ken Miller in Oklahoma City and Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed.
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