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Tragedy in Texas: 46 Found Dead in Suspected Smuggling Attempt Amid Biden’s Harsh Border Enforcement

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At least 46 migrants were found dead Monday inside a sweltering tractor-trailer in Texas in one of the deadliest tragedies in recent decades. It comes as the Biden administration continues to enforce harsh border policies blocking most people from safely entering through ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. Unless Biden revokes punitive immigration policies, “this is going to create more migrants dying in more unprecedented numbers,” says Fernando García, executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with the horrific story of 46 men, women and children seeking safety and a better life in the United States found dead Monday night in San Antonio, Texas. A warning to our listeners and viewers: This story contains graphic details.

San Antonio authorities say they found 46 migrants dead inside a sweltering tractor-trailer that was left abandoned in a remote road on Monday. Sixteen survivors were hospitalized, including four children, to be treated for heat stroke and exhaustion as temperatures in the region surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Local authorities said a city worker heard a cry for help from inside the truck yesterday afternoon and found a body on the ground outside the trailer in a partially opened gate to the trailer. This is San Antonio’s Fire Chief Charles Hood.

CHARLES HOOD: The patients that we saw were hot to the touch. They were suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion. No signs of water in the vehicle. It was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible working AC unit on that rig.

AMY GOODMAN: Authorities said many of the dead had been sprinkled with steak seasoning in a possible attempt by smugglers to ward off law enforcement officials. Fire Chief Hood said the people who helped to rescue the survivors and remove the dead are now being counseled.

CHARLES HOOD: We are currently putting those 60 members through critical incident stress debriefing. Again, we’re not supposed to open up a truck and see stacks of bodies in there. None of us come to work imagining that. So we’re working through the behavioral health for our folks right now.

AMY GOODMAN: The staggering death toll is among the deadliest tragedies in recent decades of migrants attempting to enter the United States and comes as the Biden administration continues to enforce harsh border policies blocking most people from safely entering through ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands are forced to take on deadly routes and rely on smugglers. This is San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

MAYOR RON NIRENBERG: So, the plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis, but tonight we are dealing with a horrific human tragedy. So I would urge you all to think compassionately and pray for the deceased, the ailing, the families.

AMY GOODMAN: Three people have been arrested so far. It’s not clear if this is connected. This comes as human rights advocates are calling for the surviving migrants who aid federal investigators to be safe from deportation.

We go now to Texas. We’re joined by Fernando García, founder and executive director of the El Paso, Texas-based Border Network for Human Rights.

Fernando, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, if you can just respond to this horror of what took place in San Antonio yesterday?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: Amy, Juan, thanks for having me.

Listen, there is no words to describe what is happening right now at the border, especially here in Texas, and what is happening in San Antonio. What we are seeing is an unprecedented situation that is evolving and developing at the border. In our calculations, maybe this year we’re going to break all the records of migrants that are dying by crossing the border, while crossing the border. Maybe we’re going to be reaching this unprecedented number of more than 1,000 migrants a year. That means three migrants per day. I mean, this is not only sad, this is not only history, but this is ridiculous.

I mean, we need to understand that whatever connections we need to do, one of them, it is precisely the policy of deterrence used by the United States government, but also by the state of Texas, to actually prevent migrants to come to the country legally. I mean, what we are seeing is an effort, a concentrated effort, to actually expel immigrants, reject them, reject asylum seekers and families to come into the United States legally. So, many of these migrants are using ways that they didn’t use before. They are going into more isolated places. They are getting involved with these criminal organizations just to come across, because they are being rejected when they apply for asylum or refugee status. This is an unprecedented situation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Fernando, I wanted to ask you — Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted about this, that these deaths are on Biden. And he blamed President Biden and his, quote, “open borders policy,” as Abbott calls it, for resulting in deaths like this, at the same time that the governor has sent National Guard and Texas Rangers in increased numbers to the border to prevent crossings. Your response?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: Listen, federal policy in place for decades already and recent policies as implemented by Trump era at the border, like Title 42, MPP and others, are directly responsible of this diversion of migrants going into these other ways of crossing the border without documents because they cannot come legally.

But let me tell you this: Texas Governor Greg Abbott, I mean, he’s playing a shameful political game. I mean, he is spending $8 billion a year to deploy his state troopers at the border in Texas, to actually — he called the National Guard to serve as the line of defense of the “invasion,” he called it, and also he’s building his own border wall. I mean, he’s the primary responsible of these migrants going into the deserts and into the mountains in Texas, where they are dying in greater numbers. I mean, this is on his hands. I mean, this is part of the policy of criminalizing immigrants, both at the state level and at the federal level.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, here we are years and decades after the big immigration protests of 2006 trying to press for immigration reform, and Congress is no closer to trying to come up with a more comprehensive and humane immigration policy. What’s your sense of where we go from here?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: Listen, we had high hopes during the beginning of this administration that we probably would have a chance to actually passing immigration reform, to bring — to fix the system, to bring millions of people out of the shadows, to create pathways for people to come legally into the country, to end all of this human rights crisis happening at the border. But, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. And the administration, Biden administration, also is responsible of unfulfilled promises. I mean, he is keeping Title 42 and MPP as one of the main Trumpist anti-immigrant strategies at the border, with no reason. I mean, he is also playing politics with this. I mean, they are moving too slow in terms of the promise of creating a more humane border, and passing immigration reform didn’t happen. I mean, this year it didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen at least for the rest of the year, because we’re going to have elections, and immigration has always been a contentious political issue.

And at the end of the day, both parties actually throw the hot potato against each other, actually playing games with immigrants, while migrants are dying in these numbers, and there’s refugee camps at the border, and immigrants in the United States still exploited with no citizenship and rights. So I think it is, again, shameful that both parties actually have not only forgotten this issue of immigration reform, but also they continue pushing a narrative that is criminalizing immigrants, calling them rapists, an invasion, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: The Supreme Court is expected any moment now to hand down a decision on MPP, on the “Remain in Mexico” policy. And you have people who are in Mexico waiting for up to two years now, the U.S. government deporting some — how many, what — 2 million people since March 2020 using Title 42. We also hear Guatemalan authorities saying there are some Guatemalans among the dead. Your final comments, Fernando García?

FERNANDO GARCÍA: Listen, I wouldn’t doubt that in those 46 migrants that died in San Antonio, maybe there was someone there that were expelled under Title 42, but they were waiting under MPP program. Both programs are meant to deter immigrants from coming to the country legally. They are meant to actually send them back to their country, to dissuade them from looking for a better life in the United States.

And if MPP, it is reinforced or reimplemented after the decision of the court, what we’re going to see is more people waiting in Mexico for their asylum case or their refugee status case to be resolved to come to the country between ports of entry, coming in those trucks also in the middle of that deserts, dying in canals and the river. So I think this is going to create more migrants dying in more unprecedented numbers. So, again, this is the wrong policy. This shouldn’t be — something should have been done earlier. And it’s shameful that we’re letting that many people die in our borders.

AMY GOODMAN: Fernando García, thanks so much for being with us, founder and executive director of the El Paso, Texas-based Border Network for Human Rights.

Coming up, we’ll stay in Texas. Is raising money to send pregnant people to another state to get an abortion considered aiding and abetting? We’ll speak with the head of an abortion fund in Texas.

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