The death toll from a human trafficking incident on Monday in which migrants suffered in extreme Texas heat inside a truck rose to 50 on Tuesday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said.
The migrants died inside a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, where temperatures soared to a high of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius). It was one of the deadliest recent incidents of human smuggling along the US-Mexico border.
Local and US authorities said there was no sign of water or air conditioning visible inside the truck.
“I want to offer my condolences to the relatives of this catastrophe,” López Obrador said.
Some 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans were identified among the dead, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter on Tuesday. There was no information on the nationality of the other 19, Mexican officials said.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said its Homeland Security Investigations division was conducting a criminal investigation into “an alleged human trafficking event” in coordination with the local police.
Sixteen other people were transported to hospitals for heat stroke and exhaustion, including four minors, but no children were among the dead, the San Antonio Fire Department said.
A spokesman for the Honduran Foreign Ministry told Reuters the country’s consulates in Houston and Dallas would be investigating the incident.
Mexican immigration officials are also assisting the families of the victims and moving the bodies, López Obrador said.
City Police Chief William McManus said Monday that a person working in a nearby building heard a cry for help and went outside to investigate. The worker found the trailer doors partially open and looked inside and found several bodies.
McManus said this was the largest such incident in the city and said three people were in custody following the incident, although their involvement was unclear.
“The people responsible for subjecting other people to these conditions should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during an interview on CNN on Tuesday.
The deaths once again highlight the challenge of controlling migrant crossings at the US-Mexico border, which have reached record levels.
López Obrador said Tuesday that he will meet with US President Joe Biden in Washington on July 12 to discuss migration.
The issue has proven difficult for Biden, a Democrat who took office in January 2021 vowing to reverse some of the hardline immigration policies of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. Republicans have criticized Biden’s border strategy ahead of midterm congressional elections in November.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden has been briefed and will continue to receive updates on the situation.
“Too many lives have been lost on this dangerous journey. We will continue to take action to disrupt human trafficking networks, which do not take lives into account. They exploit and endanger for profit,” he said aboard Air Force One.
The I-35 freeway near where the truck was found runs through San Antonio from the Mexican border and is a popular smuggling corridor due to the high volume of truck traffic, according to Jack Staton, a former senior official with the U.S. investigative unit. ICE who retired in December.
In July 2017, 10 migrants died after being transported in a trailer that was discovered by San Antonio police in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The driver, James Matthew Bradley, Jr., was sentenced the following year to life in prison for his role in the smuggling operation.
The Associated Press
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