At least 50 people have died inside a sweltering tractor trailer that was found in San Antonio, Texas on Monday afternoon, in what is the worst tragedy on U.S. soil related to migrant smuggling in recent history.
The death toll includes 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans, and two Hondurans. At least 16 people have been hospitalized, including four children.
The calamity is the latest in a long line of tragedies to befall migrants, who pay smugglers thousands of dollars to sneak them into the U.S. undetected. Often, those misfortunes happen in Mexico, before they reach the U.S. But the discovery of the bodies underscores the dangers migrants face after crossing into the U.S., when they must pass a hundred miles of checkpoints and roads that stretch well into the interior of Texas, Arizona and California. Migrants frequently pay smugglers to hide them along the way, inside of everything from dump trucks, coffins to tractor trailers.
San Antonio, where the migrants were found, is 155 miles from the Mexico border, and a major transit route for Mexicans and Central Americans being smuggled into the U.S.
The bodies were found after a city worker heard a cry for help shortly before 6 p.m., the Associated Press reported, citing Police Chief William McManus. The patients who were transported to a hospital were suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, Fire Chief Charles Hood said, according to the Associated Press. “It was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible working AC unit on that rig.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blamed President Joe Biden for the tragedy. The deaths “are the result of his deadly open border policies,” he wrote on Twitter. “They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the deaths an “enormous tragedy” in a message on Twitter, and said Mexico would participate in investigations coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.
Three people have been taken into custody so far.
A growing number of smugglers are U.S. citizens., because they are more likely to pass Border Patrol checkpoints without being stopped. Seventy-one percent of people convicted of migrant smuggling in federal courts are U.S. citizens, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, up from 60 percent in 2015, underscoring how transnational the industry has become.
In December, at least 55 migrants trying to reach the U.S. died in a tractor trailer crash in southern Mexico, after the driver of the truck they were in lost control and slammed into a lightpost. The husband of a top Mexican immigration official was arrested in connection with the accident.
Adult migrants traveling in the trailer were charged around $13,000 to reach the U.S., according to survivors VICE World News spoke with. Unaccompanied minors were charged the lesser price of $4,000, because under the Biden administration they can turn themselves into U.S. Border Patrol agents once they reach the U.S.-Mexico border and are allowed in.
Most migrants pay the fee in installments over the course of the trip. Historically, a key installment is paid immediately after or before the migrants cross into the U.S.
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