At least 50 people were found dead inside a tractor-trailer in San Antonio on Monday after a presumed migrant smuggling attempt, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has detained three individuals who are “believed to be part of the smuggling conspiracy,” the spokesperson said Tuesday.
President Biden said in a statement Tuesday that “the tragic loss of life in San Antonio, Texas that took place yesterday is horrifying and heartbreaking.”
- “While we are still learning all the facts about what happened … initial reports are that this tragedy was caused by smugglers or human traffickers who have no regard for the lives they endanger and exploit to make a profit,” Biden said.
- “Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry.
Authorities said at a news conference on Monday that 16 other people found in the trailer, including four minors, were taken to local hospitals with conditions such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
An ICE spokesperson said in a statement to news outlets on Monday that HSI responded to a call from San Antonio police about “an alleged human smuggling event” in the area and confirmed the deaths of more than 40 people at the scene.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said at the news conference near the scene of the tragedy, not far from Lackland Air Force Base, that the patients were “hot to the touch.”
- “They were suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion. There were no signs of water in the vehicle,” Hood said.
- “It was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible air conditioning unit on that rig,” he added.
“We’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there. None of us come to work imagining that.”— San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood
Hundreds of migrants have died at the southern border, with 557 deaths recorded by the U.S. Border Patrol in the 2021 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. But this is one of the deadliest border incidents involving migrants to occur en masse in modern history, per AP.
- In 2017, 10 migrants died in a hot tractor-trailer in a San Antonio Walmart. In 2003, the bodies of 19 migrants were found in another heat-related incident southeast of the city.
- San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the news conference that what happened was “nothing short of a horrific human tragedy.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has made immigration a focal point of his re-election campaign, blamed President Biden for the deaths, said in a tweet that they’re “a result of his deadly open border policies” and “show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Abbott’s Democratic gubernatorial challenger, Beto O’Rourke, tweeted: “We need urgent action — dismantle human smuggling rings and replace them with expanded avenues for legal migration that reflect our values and meet our country’s needs.”
National Weather Service meteorologists have said this has been San Antonio’s warmest June on record despite days to go in the month, the Texas Tribune reports.