This summary about the San Antonio border tragedy where 51 migrants died was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.
The death toll of Monday’s tragedy — the discovery of dozens of dead migrants in an abandoned truck in San Antonio, Texas — rose to 51 yesterday. It has become one of the most deadly migrant-smuggling operations in U.S. history.
Quick background: The migrants died from suffocation, dehydration, and heat stroke after enduring an hours-long journey in the back of a tractor-trailer that drove through Mexico into Texas. Their journey ended in San Antonio, where folks nearby say immigrants frequently disembark to continue their journey further into the U.S. Temperatures north of 100 degrees that day intensified the overheating that caused their deaths. Three suspects, including the tractor-trailer driver, have been arrested, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The circumstances that led to these people’s deaths are not a surprise: Since the Title 42 public health policy was implemented in 2020, the majority of migrants — particularly those from Mexico and the Northern Triangle, where most migrants in the truck were from — have been quickly expelled when seeking asylum. They then often embark on the journey a second time, and many take dangerous alternative routes into the U.S. to avoid law enforcement.
Humans are often smuggled into the U.S. on trucks. Those numbers have likely only grown given that tight border resources and rules have led the U.S. to accept a historically low number of asylum seekers from the Americas. Geopolitical experts and human rights activists have said about the recent tragedy: “Migrant deaths are the result of immigration restrictions not smugglers.”
Border management and immigration reforms are needed, advocates say: Danilo Zak, policy and advocacy manager at the National Immigration Forum, said these deaths could be prevented if the federal government expands capacity for receiving asylum seekers at ports of entry. Zak also called for clear and humane border processes; trained resource personnels to rescue migrants in distress; and accessible legal pathways for workers.
The incident has spurred the Biden administration to pledge it will disrupt human smuggling networks that seek to benefit from the high demand.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg have tweeted statements regarding the migrants’ deaths. Abbott blamed Biden for the deaths, effectively politicizing the situation. Monday’s tragedy happened despite the fact that the state government tripled its spending on border security last year.
Questions abound about what will happen to survivors: The 16 survivors from the truck incident on Monday were hospitalized, including four children. The American Immigration Council is calling on the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to ensure survivors are “treated with dignity and not detained or deported” — a plausible scenario — but rather that they are “paroled into the U.S. in order to seek U visas for victims of crimes.”
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