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Abandoned Texas Trailer Deadliest Smuggling Attempt in US History

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At least 51 people died, and several others remained hospitalized on Tuesday after an abandoned tractor-trailer was found in San Antonio amid blistering heat which officials call what is arguably the deadliest smuggling incident on record.

Bexar County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores said the death toll rose to 51 people during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Initially, authorities said that 46 people were found dead in the trailer on Monday, and 16 people were hospitalized.

Rubén Minutti Zanatta, Mexico’s consul general in San Antonio, said on Tuesday that three hospitalized patients had died, 13 still in hospital, including a 16-year-old.

At least two of those 13 were in critical or serious condition, he said. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the victims had “families who were probably trying to find a better life.”

“This is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy,” Nirenberg said. “This is a horror that surpasses anything we’ve experienced before.”

Here’s what we know at the moment:

Probably the deadliest smuggling incident in US history

Craig Larrabee, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, said the death toll was the highest ever from a smuggling incident in the United States.

The trek migrants must make to cross the southern US border is inherently dangerous, with hundreds of deaths reported yearly. Smuggling is one of the many ways migrants enter the US.

The International Organization for Migration, part of the United Nations, said that in 2021, 651 people died trying to cross the US-Mexico border — the largest number since 2014.

Authorities found 239,416 migrants at the southwestern border in May — 180,597 more than the same time last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Smuggling Attempt

The San Antonio incident is one of several smuggling incidents along the US southern border that have resulted in deaths over the years:

July 23, 2017: Eight immigrants died in a blistering trailer in a parking lot at San Antonio Walmart. Two others later died in hospitals. The driver was sentenced to life in prison. May 14, 2003: 19 migrants died in an abandoned, unrefrigerated milk truck while traveling from South Texas to Houston. The truck driver was eventually sentenced to 34 years in prison. March 3, 2021: 13 suspected migrants were killed when an SUV crashed into a tractor-trailer in California. 4, 2021: 10 people died, and 20 others were injured after a van carrying 29 suspected migrants crashed in southern Texas.

Fire chief: Passengers suffer from heat stroke, heat exhaustion

The truck was discovered after a city worker heard a cry for help from the car shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.

Officers found a body on the ground outside the trailer,; hours later,, the body bags were spread outside the truck.

San Antonio fire chief Charles Hood said that the truck’s passengers suffered from heat stroke and heat exhaustion. There were no signs of water or working air conditioning in the car.

Hood said the surviving passengers were too weak to help themselves out of the truck in temperatures close to 100 degrees Monday.

FAST MONEY, DEADLY RESULTS: Smugglers lure US teens to transport migrants

Mexican, Guatemalan, and Honduran nationals were among the victims

Twelve adults and four children were initially hospitalized, Hood said Monday. None of the people who died were children.

The US authorities did not immediately release additional details about the circumstances of the injured or the home countries of the people found in the truck.

According to the US Immigration and Customs Service, the identified victims are from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. By Tuesday afternoon, medical examiners may have identified 34 victims, but they took additional steps, such as fingerprinting, to confirm identities, Clay-Flores said.

According to Zanatta, the Mexican forensics bureau believes 27 of the dead are Mexican citizens based on the documents they carried.

Zanatta said he had received 30 requests from Mexicans searching for missing relatives and believes their missing loved ones may be associated with the group found in the trailer.

According to Aida Ruiz García, director of the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants, authorities have confirmed that one of the surviving Mexicans from the trailer was José Luis Guzmán Vásquez, 32, from San Miguel Huautla in the southern state of Oaxaca.

A cousin, Alejandro López, told Milenio television that the family worked in agriculture and construction and migrated because “we have nothing but to weave hats, palms, and handicrafts.”

‘ALARMING RISE IN WHITE SUPREMACIST Rhetoric’: Migrants, people of color vulnerable to white extremist groups along US-Mexico border

Three people were arrested; one was hospitalized.

According to US Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas, the truck driver and two other people were arrested.

He said the truck had passed a border checkpoint northeast of Laredo, Texas, on Interstate 35. Cuellar didn’t know if the car had any migrants as it passed the checkpoint.

Investigators traced the truck’s registration to a residence in San Antonio. According to criminal complaints filed by the US law firm, they detained two men from Mexico for possession of weapons. The complaints made no specific allegations related to the deaths.

Authorities believe the truck discovered Monday had mechanical problems when it was left next to a railroad track in an area of ​​San Antonio surrounded by junkyards running into a busy highway, said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, the county’s top-ranking official. That includes San Antonio.

At least one of the suspects, an American, is in hospital, Zanatta said Tuesday.

People smugglers threaten and exploit to make a profit, says Biden

Homeland Security Investigation has detained three people “believed to be part of the smuggling conspiracy,” the U.S. Immigration and Customs Administration confirmed in a statement to USA TODAY. Their names and any information about the operation have not been released. The United States Department of Homeland Security promised an investigation into what happened and the apparent smuggling operation.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden called the “tragic loss of life” in San Antonio “chilling and heartbreaking.”

“While we are still learning all the facts about what happened and the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the investigation, initial reports are that this tragedy was caused by smugglers or traffickers who have no respect for the lives they put at risk.” bring and exploit to make a profit,” he said.

‘EXPLOIT TO MAKE PROFIT’: Biden defends border policy after death of at least 51 migrants in Texas.

Contributions: The Associated Press

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