The driver responsible for the death of 53 migrants in Texas pretended to be a survivor
The death toll in the trailer that was found Monday in San Antonio, Texas, has risen to 53 - 40 men and 13 women. It’s the deadliest smuggling incident of its kind in U.S. history. The location is close to Interstate 35, a major transit route for traffic and commerce from the border.
The Justice Department announced Wednesday night that it had filed charges against four people, two Americans and two Mexicans, in connection with the tragedy, including the driver of the trailer.
The driver was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of his arrest and tried to pass himself off as an immigrant to sneak away and avoid justice, according to a a Mexican immigration official.
Amongst the victims, there’s 27 Mexicans, 14 Hondurans, seven Guatemalans, and two Salvadorans, according to Francisco Garduño, head of the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM).
Amongst the victims, a Honduran mother has recognized two of her children who were traveling together. Also, two Guatemalan minors, ages 13 and 14 are among the deceased, as well as a 24-year-old woman who wanted to raise money to pay for her mother's surgery, reported Univision.
Some of the victims remain unidentified because many did not have identity papers with them and some even had false documents, the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office reported.
The incident comes amid a record influx of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, where authorities have recorded more than 2 million arrests during this fiscal year (July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022).
Rescuers pulled 16 people from the truck who were still alive and conscious, including four minors, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters. They were taken for medical treatment.
Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that specializes in human trafficking cases, has taken command of the investigation, authorities said.
According to San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood, the bodies removed from the truck “were hot to the touch”, and there were no signs of water in the vehicle, and no visible working AC unit.
Smuggling organizations working inside the United States sometimes pack migrants into trucks and cargo trailers after they have already crossed the border, to sneak them past highway checkpoints operated by the U.S. Border Patrol, according to The Washington Post.
“As temperatures start to rise in the summer, human smugglers will continue to exploit vulnerable populations and recklessly endanger the lives of migrants for financial gain”, said CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus to The Washington Post.
“The terrain along the Southwest border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert that migrants must hike after crossing the border are unforgiving”, Magnus added.
There have been several deadly human trafficking incidents on U.S. soil, but the death toll in Monday’s tragedy surpassed all of them. Until now, the deadliest human smuggling event in the U.S. was on May 13, 2003, when 19 migrants died after riding in the rear compartment of an 18-wheeler in South Texas.
Image: Jonathan Cooper/Unsplash
Truck driver Tyrone Williams had agreed to smuggle the migrants across a border checkpoint for $7,500, but he failed to turn on the truck’s cooling system and temperatures inside soared to 173 degrees (78º Celsius).
Migrants clawed at the insulation and screamed for help, and when he finally opened the doors in Victoria, Texas, the migrants were found dead of dehydration, overheating and suffocation. Williams was sentenced to 34 years in prison.
Image: Luis Graterol/Unsplash
On July 23, 2017, 10 migrants died after being smuggled in a tractor-trailer to the parking lot of a Walmart in San Antonio. The driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., pleaded guilty to charges related to their deaths. Eight migrants died in the trailer and two died at a hospital.
“This is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, describing the migrants as people “who had families, who were likely trying to find a better life.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott blamed president Biden for the tragedy, writing that those deaths are “the result of his deadly open border policies” in a tweet. “They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law”, he added.
The truck had U.S. and Texas Department of Transportation registration numbers on the cab. State records indicate a man in Alamo, Texas, is associated with those numbers, but his son-in-law, Isaac Limon, said that whoever ran the smuggling operation fraudulently printed those figures on the truck.
Limon said the truck that corresponds with that registration is a Volvo that has been hauling grain for the past week in another part of Texas. He added that his shaken-up father-in-law was standing next to him as he spoke by phone to The Washington Post.
“It was a perfect setup,” Limon said. “The truck is here. I’m looking at it right now. Sad to say, but he’s a bit of a victim, too, because people believe it was him.”