Eva Ruth Moravec and Todd C. Frankel report in the Washington Post:
“SAN ANTONIO — It began with a desperate request for water and a Walmart employee’s suspicions about a tractor-trailer parked outside. That led officials on Sunday to discover at least 39 people packed into a sweltering trailer, several of them on the verge of death — their skin hot to the touch, their hearts dangerously racing — and eight men already dead. Another would die later at a hospital.
Authorities think they found an immigrant smuggling operation just 2½ hours from the Mexican border that ended in what San Antonio Police Chief William McManus described as a “horrific tragedy.” The victims, as young as 15, appeared to have been loaded like cargo into a trailer without working air conditioning during the height of the Texas summer. It was unknown how long they had been in the trailer or where their journey started, but 30 of the victims were taken to area hospitals and 17 had life-threatening injuries. Federal authorities said the victims were “undocumented aliens.”
Reyna Torres, consul of Mexico, confirmed in Spanish that Mexican nationals are among those dead and in the hospitals and said the consulate is interviewing the survivors.
City Fire Chief Charles Hood said some of the victims appeared to have suffered severe heatstroke, with heart rates soaring over 130 beats per minute. In the worst cases, Hood said, “a lot of them are going to have some irreversible brain damage.”
Even more people were thought to have been inside the trailer before help arrived, police said. Survivors at six area hospitals told investigators that up to 100 individuals were originally in the tractor-trailer.
Police officers work on a crime scene after eight people believed to be illegal immigrants being smuggled into the United States were found dead inside a tractor-trailer parked behind a Walmart store in San Antonio. A ninth person died at a hospital. (Ray Whitehouse/Reuters)
Walmart surveillance video showed cars stopping and picking up people as they exited the back of the trailer. But suspicions were not raised until an employee noticed a disoriented person, who asked for water. The employee then called police, authorities said. Then, a chaotic scene unfolded outside the Walmart on the city’s southwest side, as ambulances and police cars arrived and people were carried away, leaving behind shoes and personal belongings strewn across the asphalt and trailer floor.
The truck’s driver, identified as James M. Bradley, 60, of Clearwater, Fla., has been arrested and is expected to be charged Monday morning, said the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Texas.
The grisly discovery in San Antonio comes as the Trump administration is calling on Congress to increase funding for border security and to expand the wall on the southern border with Mexico.
It also illuminates the extreme risks immigrants face as they attempt to elude border agents in the searing summer heat. Some try to slip through legal checkpoints undetected, while others sneak illegally across the border. Often, they are fleeing violence and poverty in Latin America, advocates say.
Many have died attempting to enter the United States, drowning in the Rio Grande, lost in the desolate ranch lands of south Texas, or collapsing from exhaustion in the Arizona desert.
Two weeks ago, Houston police discovered 12 immigrants, including a girl, who had been locked for hours inside a sweltering box truck in a parking lot, banging for someone to rescue them. Three people were arrested. A Harris County prosecutor said the migrants were at imminent risk of death.
In May, border agents discovered 18 immigrants locked in a refrigerated produce truck, with the temperature set at 51 degrees. Passengers were from Latin America and Kosovo.
One of the deadliest smuggling operations occurred in 2003, when 19 people died after being discovered in an insulated trailer abandoned at a truck stop in Victoria, Tex. The truck driver in that case, Tyrone M. Williams, was sentenced to nearly 34 years in prison.
. . . .
Later Sunday, moments after Mass ended at the historic San Fernando Cathedral, two dozen people held a gathering in Main Plaza to show their support for immigrants. A handful of people made speeches and said prayers in Spanish and English, using a megaphone, to a crowd of about 50 people. Children played in the splash pads nearby while adults wandered in and out of the crowd, many taking photographs and videos.
“Hold your family extra tight tonight,” said Barbie Hurtado, the statewide organizer for RAICES, which organized the event, “and keep the people that lost their lives in your thoughts, in your prayers.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), a San Antonio native, addressed attendees at the end of the hour-long service.
“This represents a symptom of a broken immigration system that Congress, of which I am a part, has had the chance to fix but has not,” he said. “That’s a colossal failure that has a human cost.”
Another San Antonio native, Debbie Leal-Herrera, 55, said she was in town visiting from New Mexico this week and wanted to come to the plaza because “it touches me as a Hispanic.”
Leal-Herrera, an elementary school teacher, said she knows several people who have immigrated to the United States illegally and has taught many students whose parents are undocumented.
“It reminds me of how much we truly take for granted,” she said. “What a beautiful gift it is to be an American.”
Advocates for immigrants in Texas are still reeling from the recent passage of the tough new immigration law, set to take effect Sept. 1. The deaths marked yet another blow.
Maria Victoria De la Cruz, who is originally from Mexico, publicly urged federal officials not to deport the immigrants who were found Sunday.
“As an immigrant, I feel destroyed,” she told the group in Spanish. “It’s not fair to return them to the place they have fled.”
During the vigil, a somber group quietly approached the consul from Mexico to ask about a relative. Juan Jose Castillo, who said he is from the Mexican state of Zacatecas but lives in the United States, said he was relieved that his 44-year-old brother was among the survivors.
“He came out of necessity,” Castillo said in Spanish. “It’s very bad.”
Read the full story at the link.
One way of saving some lives: reform the immigration system to 1) allow more individuals to immigrate legally, and 2) provide full due process adjudications of asylum and other claims for protection under U.S. law, with reasonable access to counsel and no detention unless required by individualized circumstances, to individuals who present themselves at the border. This would encourage individuals who seek to to migrate to or seek refuge in the U.S. to do so in an orderly fashion, with complete screening, through our legal system.
Militarizing the border and creating a detention empire might or might not reduce undocumented migration in the long run. But three things are certain: 1) smuggling fees will go up; 2) methods used by smugglers will become more risky; and 3) more individuals will die attempting to enter the U.S.