Forty-six people were found dead after being abandoned in a tractor-trailer on a remote back road in San Antonio in the latest tragedy to claim the lives of migrants smuggled across the border from Mexico to the U.S. Sixteen people were hospitalized, including four children.
A city worker heard a cry for help from the truck shortly before 6 p.m. Monday and discovered the gruesome scene, Police Chief William McManus said. Hours later, body bags lay spread on the ground near the trailer and bodies remained inside as authorities responded to the calamity.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the 46 who died had families who were likely trying to find a better life.
This is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy, Nirenberg said.
It’s among the deadliest of the tragedies that have claimed thousands of lives in recent decades as people attempt to cross the U.S. border from Mexico. Ten migrants died in 2017 after being trapped inside a truck parked at a Walmart in San Antonio. In 2003, the bodies of 19 migrants were found in a sweltering truck southeast of San Antonio.
The home countries of all of the migrants and how long they were abandoned on the side of the road were not immediately known.
Among them, 22 are from Mexico, seven are from Guatemala and two are from Honduras, Roberto Velasco Álvarez, head of the North America department in Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, said on Twitter.
Our condolences, he tweeted. All responsible will be brought to justice.
South Texas has long been the busiest area for illegal border crossings. Migrants ride in vehicles through Border Patrol checkpoints to San Antonio, the closest major city, from which point they disperse across the United States.
Other incidents have occurred long before migrants reached the U.S. border. In December, more than 50 died when a semitrailer filled with migrants rolled over on a highway in southern Mexico. In October, Mexican authorities reported finding 652 migrants packed into six trailers near the U.S. border. They were stopped at a military checkpoint.
Officers arrived to find a body on the ground outside the trailer and a partially opened gate to the trailer. Three people were taken into custody, but it was unclear if they were definitively connected with human trafficking, McManus said. The trailer was gone Tuesday morning, but access to the area where it was found remained blocked.
Of the 16 taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses, 12 were adults and four were children, said Fire Chief Charles Hood. The patients were hot to the touch and dehydrated, and no water was found in the trailer, he said.
They were suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, Hood said. It was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible working AC unit on that rig.
Those in the trailer were part of a presumed migrant smuggling attempt into the United States, and the investigation was being led by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, McManus said.
Big rigs emerged as a popular smuggling method in the early 1990s amid a surge in U.S. border enforcement in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, which were then the busiest corridors for illegal crossings.
Before that, people paid small fees to mom-and-pop operators to get them across a largely unguarded border. As crossing became exponentially more difficult after the 2001 terror attacks in the U.S., migrants were led through more perilous terrain and paid thousands of dollars more.