Migrants Found Dead in San Antonio: What We Know So Far

TAccording to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the death toll from an alleged incident of human smuggling in San Antonio (Texas) has risen up to 50.

San Antonio fire and law departments responded to calls about dead bodies discovered in the Southwestern section of San Antonio on Monday night. It was believed that the victims were migrants. 46 of those found dead inside a semitruck truck. There were sixteen survivors—12 adults and four minors. According to an ICE spokesperson on Tuesday, there were now 50 deaths.

The people found alive at the scene were “hot to the touch,” said Charles Hood, San Antonio Fire Chief during a Monday evening press conference. “They were suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion. There were no signs of water inside the vehicle. It was a refrigerated tractor trailer, but there was no visible working A/C unit on that rig.” He added that the survivors were too weak to help themselves out of the semi truck, but were conscious.

“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there,” Hood said. “None of us come to work imagining that.”

Here’s what to know about the incident.

So far, what do we know?

A worker at a nearby office heard someone call for help Monday night, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus stated during Monday’s press conference. He opened the trailer and found bodies. A worker called the authorities just before 6:15 p.m. and around 60 firefighters responded to his call. San Antonio Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations and HSI also responded to the call in the Southwestern area of the city.

McManus claimed that it is the most severe incident of this type. Three people were detained at the scene, but it’s unclear if or how they were involved with the deaths, McManus said. In a statement to TIME, HSI, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said the individuals detained are “believed to be part of the smuggling conspiracy.”

The investigation has been taken over by HSI. It is still ongoing. “HSI continues its enforcement efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities,” a spokesperson with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS body that oversees HSI, told TIME in a statement. “We will continue to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smuggling organizations and their reckless disregard for the health and safety of those smuggled.”

We know a lot about victims

According to Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary, 22 of the victims have been identified as Mexican citizens, while seven are Guatemalan and two were Honduran.

“We know that these families came to find new opportunities for their families,” San Antonio Council Member Adriana Rocha Garcia told reporters in Spanish on Monday evening. “The city of San Antonio is known as a city with a lot of compassion, so this hurts us all that this has happened here in the city. But the people who have survived who are in hospital, we’re sure that they will be treated with the care most deserved of people who have suffered so much.”

The New York TimesAccording to reports, three of the victims are still in critical condition and they’re being treated at San Antonio’s Baptist Medical Center.

Mexico border death

The U.S. has been the main country of destination for international migrants since 1970, according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has documented nearly 3,000 deaths of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border since it began collecting data in 2014.

Since the 1990s, the U.S.’s response to increasing migration at the U.S.-Mexico border has been to implement deterrence measures and policies to try to discourage unauthorized migration. Experts have shown that these deterrence measures have resulted in increased risk taking by migrants to come to the U.S. During the same time period, Congress failed to adopt any meaningful immigration policy. This makes it more difficult for legal immigrants to enter the U.S.

Although the U.S.-Mexico border migration has been declining in recent years compared to record breaking highs between 1983 and 2006, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse has shown that the number of migrants to Mexico has increased since 2021. This is according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC), which is a research institution.

“We can’t look to enforcement solely, we can’t enforce our way out of this issue of migration pressures and migration flows,” says Doris Meissner, senior fellow and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan research organization.

Some of the pressures at the border have been compounded by the U.S.’s Title 42 health measure, an authority put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic that officials have used to immediately expel people who attempt an unauthorized crossing or who wish to claim asylum. Since October began, U.S. Customs and Border Protection have had more than 1.5million encounters with Mexican border officials (this includes those who were encountered multiple times). Over 750,000 encounters led to a Title 42 expulsion.

The government’s reaction

In a Tuesday statement, President Joe Biden called the deaths “horrifying and heartbreaking,” and said the Administration, working with regional partners, has launched a “first-of-its kind anti-smuggling campaign.” In the past three months, the White House says, over 2,400 arrests have been made. “Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my Administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry,” Biden said.

According to Ruben MinuttiZanatta (Consul of Mexico in San Antonio), U.S. officials collaborate with Mexican Consulate. They are also in touch with their counterparts in Central America. Ebrard was inaugurated Tuesday. announcedThe Mexican Attorney General has also opened an investigation into the San Antonio tragedy.

Other Texas and Immigration officials shared condolences as well as their shock at the events.

“Horrified at this tragic loss of life near San Antonio,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said on Twitter. “This speaks to the desperation of migrants who would put their lives in the hands of callous human smugglers who show no regard for human life. We will be working with our federal, state and local partners to assist in every way possible with this investigation.”

Ron Nirenberg from San Antonio was the mayor of Monday night’s press conference. He appealed for all those guilty to be brought to trial to the full extent allowed by law. Twitter. “Migrants seeking asylum should always be treated as a humanitarian crisis, but this evening we’re facing a horrific human tragedy,” he wrote. “More than 40 hopeful lives were lost. I urge you to think compassionately, pray for the deceased, the ailing, and their families at this moment.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday evening that Biden is to blame for the deaths, saying, “They are a result of his deadly open border policies,” and “they show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.” (The Biden Administration’s border policies include Title 42 expulsions of some migrants, and the use of the “Remain in Mexico” program, which requires those seeking asylum to wait in Mexico while their case is decided by a judge in the U.S. Unaccompanied minors and some family units are exempted from these policies and are able to request asylum in the U.S.)

Alejandro Mayorkas (DHS Secretary) also addressed the audience TwitterTo share your call for action. “I am heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives,” he wrote. “Far too many lives have been lost as individuals—including families, women, and children—take this dangerous journey… We will work alongside our partners to hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable and continue to take action to disrupt smuggling networks.”

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