By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams
Lawmakers and rights advocates mourned the loss of life and decried the United States’ inhumane immigration system late Monday after an abandoned tractor-trailer rig containing at least 50 dead people and 16 survivors—including four children—was discovered in San Antonio, Texas.
Local authorities said it appears that the rig, which was found after a worker in the area heard a yell for help, was being used for a smuggling operation. Citing one law enforcement official, The Texas Tribune reported that evidence suggests “people were trying to jump out of the tractor-trailer because some of the deceased were found along several blocks.”
“The tractor-trailer had a refrigeration system, the official said, but it did not appear to be working,” the Tribune added. “Many of the people found inside the vehicle appeared to have been sprinkled with steak seasoning, the official said, in perhaps an attempt to cover up the smell of people as the smugglers were transporting them.”
On Monday, the temperature in San Antonio reached a high of 101°F.
The 16 survivors were transported to a nearby hospital. According to Mexico’s foreign minister, 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans, and two Hondurans were among the deceased.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, wrote on Twitter that the smuggling incident appears to be the deadliest along the U.S.-Mexico border in the last five years. In 2017, 10 people died in a truck carrying nearly 40 migrants in the sweltering San Antonio heat.
In 2003, 19 migrants died in a similarly devastating case in Victoria, Texas that was at the time considered the “deadliest smuggling incident in U.S. history.”
“Been dreading another tragedy like this for months now,” wrote Reichlin-Melnick. “With the border shut as tightly as it is today for migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, people have been pushed into more and more dangerous routes. Truck smuggling is way up.”
“Truck smuggling is VERY dangerous,” he continued. “It has the possibility to go horribly wrong. And when its use goes up, the possibility of mass-death incidents go up as well.”
As federal, state, and local authorities investigated the incident and details continued to emerge, Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wasted no time blaming the deaths on President Joe Biden, claiming that “they are a result of his deadly open border policies.”
Experts and rights organizations were quick to respond—scathingly, in most cases.
Shouan Zhoobin Riahi, an immigration attorney, tweeted that “if the border was ‘open,’ people wouldn’t feel the need to pack themselves like fucking sardines in the back of an unventilated trailer in the middle of the god damn summer in order to enter the country.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of immigrant rights group America’s Voice, added: “How low can this man go? People seeking opportunities lose their lives. A tragedy of immense proportions. A time to rethink the myopic and stupid border debate. And this lowlife turns it into a despicable tweet to score cheap points. He’s the governor of Texas? Good God.”
The appalling discovery in southwest San Antonio also drew the attention of members of Congress, who demanded an end to the Trump-era border expulsion policy known as Title 42.
“This is horrific,” said Rep. Chuy García (D-Ill.). “We need to end Title 42 and fix our broken immigration system so these unimaginable tragedies stop happening. People fleeing violence and poverty deserve a chance at a better life. Que descansen en paz.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), who represents San Antonio, echoed García.
“The tragedy in San Antonio tonight, the loss of life, is horrific,” Castro wrote on Twitter. “My prayers are with the victims, their families, and the survivors being treated in our community. May God bless them. We must end Title 42, which has put desperate, oppressed people in grave danger of death.”