By MARK LORENZANA
Two Mexican nationals were charged in a U.S. federal court late Tuesday, June 28, in connection with the human smuggling attempt in which at least 51 undocumented migrants died after being trapped inside a trailer truck just outside San Antonio, Texas.
The two Mexicans, who were arrested shortly after the abandoned truck was discovered on Monday, June 27, were accused of possessing firearms while in the United States illegally, according to court documents and U.S. authorities.
The deceased migrants, whom at least 27 have been identified as Mexican citizens, were discovered on the highway just south of San Antonio, in the unventilated, unairconditioned back of the truck, in which temperatures reached 39.4 degrees Celsius, along with at least 16 survivors, who were taken to local hospitals for heat stroke and dehydration.
Also among the victims of what has been called the deadliest human trafficking tragedy in recent history, were at least seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans.
Authorities are working to identify the remaining victims.
“The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, shortly after the bodies were discovered.
“But tonight we are dealing with a horrific human tragedy. These people had families and were likely trying to find a better life. It’s nothing short of a horrific, human tragedy.”
Speaking at his daily news conference on Tuesday, June 28, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that Mexico would work to repatriate the remains of its citizens and called the discovery of the bodies “a tremendous tragedy.”
López Obrador said this incident and other migrant deaths were due to the “poverty and desperation of our Central American brothers, and of Mexicans.”
Meanwhile, the White House called the truck deaths “horrific and heartbreaking.”
Local officials said a city worker discovered the scene after hearing cries for help. The migrants were found on the outskirts of San Antonio, which is 250 kilometers from the U.S.-Mexico border, in an area known as a major transit route for human smugglers.
Human traffickers — oftentimes contacts of Mexican drug cartels — use trucks to transport undocumented migrants after meeting them in remote areas once they have managed to cross into the United States.
According to local reports, emergency responders arrived at the scene and saw the truck, which was abandoned by the driver, with its trailer doors partly open and with bodies strewn around the vehicle. Authorities said there were no signs of water and no visible working air conditioning inside the truck. It is believed that most of the victims died of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Local law enforcement said they have arrested three suspects, after police tracked a vehicle that an eyewitness saw leaving the scene. The three suspects are being held in custody, and the investigation has been handed over to U.S. federal agents.
Other similar incidents of migrant death have been reported in Texas, but not with the same magnitude. In 2017, 10 immigrants were found dead inside a similar tractor trailer, also on the south side of San Antonio. In 2003, 17 dead bodies were found in a car in Victoria, another town in the south of Texas.