The number of migrants who died after apparently being abandoned in a sweltering semi-truck in Texas rose to at least 50 on Tuesday, in a suspected border smuggling attempt now being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter on Tuesday that 22 Mexican nationals, seven Guatemalan nationals and two Honduran nationals had been identified.
“We mourn,” Ebrard wrote in Spanish.
The trailer was spotted in southwest San Antonio Monday night after a worker heard a call for help, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said. The worker opened the doors, found “several deceased inside” and called the police.
First responders found bodies piled on top of each other in the trailer.
16 survivors – 12 adults and four minors – were taken to hospitals, authorities said on Monday. The survivors were too weak to exit the trailer on their own, said San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood, who described their bodies as “hot to the touch.”
“They suffered from heat exhaustion and heat exhaustion,” Hood said. He said there was no sign of water or a working air conditioner in the vehicle.
Temperatures in San Antonio fluctuated around 100 degrees on Monday.
McManus said three people were in custody in connection with the incident.
Judge Nelson Wolff, the highest elected official in Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, told the Associated Press Tuesday that local authorities believe the truck was from Laredo, a border town 150 miles south.
“They just parked it on the side of the road,” Wolff said. “Apparently they had mechanical problems and left it there.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told Air Force One reporters that President Biden, who is in Europe for G-7 and NATO summits, is “closely monitoring the absolutely horrific and heartbreaking reports” from San Antonio “.
“Our prayers are with those who tragically lost their lives, their families and those who are still fighting for their lives,” she said.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said at a news conference on Tuesday that his country was ready to assist the investigation. “I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the families of Mexican, Guatemalan and Honduran migrants who died by suffocation in a trailer yesterday,” he said.
López Obrador said he plans to discuss the incident and the conditions of migrants in general at a meeting with President Biden next month in Washington.
“It is bitter evidence that we must continue to insist on supporting people so that they do not have to leave their villages to look for life on the other side of the border,” he said.
Smuggling migrants in articulated lorries has become a common practice along the southwestern border. This often has deadly consequences.
In 2003, 19 people died after being abandoned in a trailer at a rest stop in Victoria, Texas. The driver, Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, was convicted and is serving nearly 34 years in prison.
In 2017, 10 people died after being abandoned in a trailer truck outside a San Antonio Walmart. The driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Tuesday called for tougher penalties for smugglers.
“It is inexcusable that people smuggling continues to take innocent lives!” he said in Spanish on Twitter. “It is imperative that mechanisms are found to increase penalties and that smuggling is a crime for which perpetrators can be extradited.”
The number of migrants who rely on smugglers has exploded in recent decades amid tighter enforcement by US and Mexican immigration authorities.
Migrants often pay up to $10,000 to smuggling groups closely linked to drug dealers.
Migrant advocates said the tragedy was evidence that stricter border policies have forced those trying to reach the US to take greater risks.
“The Biden administration should see this heartbreaking tragedy for what it is: a clarion call to abandon deeply flawed and dangerous immigration policies,” said Wendy Young, president of the migrant advocacy group, Kids in Need of Defense.
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“This latest tragedy and the worrying rise in migrant deaths around the world underscore the need to create safer ways to protect refugees.”
In recent years, US border patrols have not only targeted economic migrants looking for work, but also asylum seekers seeking protection.
Title 42, which former President Trump invoked in 2020 on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19, allows border officials to immediately deport migrants even if they say they want to seek asylum in the US The US has Migrants deported almost 2 million times.
The Biden administration tried to overturn Title 42 this year, but its efforts were blocked by a judge after 24 states sued.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from San Antonio, Linthicum from Mexico City and Yee from Los Angeles. Times contributors Richard Winton, Hamed Aleaziz, and Cecilia Sánchez contributed to this report.
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-06-28/migrants-killed-tractor-trailer-smuggling-texas Death toll of migrants found in abandoned tractor-trailer in Texas rises to 50