(Spanish CNN) — The White House points against human trafficking after, until this Wednesday, at least 53 migrants died inside the trailer of a truck in San Antonio, Texas. On the day of the event, more than 15 were taken to hospital with health problems related to the heat. Mexico, where at least 22 of the deceased are from, will open an investigation of the events.
How did they find the migrants in the truck in San Antonio?
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told a news conference Monday that he received a call at about 6 pm after a nearby building employee heard a cry for help.
McManus said the employee walked to the truck and noticed the doors were partially open. When the person opened the door, several deceased people were found inside. McManus said police have three people in custody, though he clarified it’s unclear if they’re connected to the incident.
San Antonio police, meanwhile, have alerted the Department of Homeland Security unit that is leading the investigation into a “suspected human smuggling case,” an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said Monday.
How many people died?
So far, 53 people have been reported dead by the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office in Texas. Of that total, 40 were men and 13 were women.
In recent days, the Foreign Minister of Mexico, Marcelo Ebrard, said that, based on information from the United States, 22 had already been identified as Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans. The rest are yet to be identified.
US officials said Monday that 48 died at the scene and two at the hospital, where a total of 16 people were taken from heat-related injuries. Among the 16 were four minors, according to the San Antonio fire marshal.
Heat stroke and exhaustion, in the midst of high temperatures
The patients were hot to the touch and suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said Monday. The truck had no visible working air conditioning unit, and there was no sign of water inside, he added.
High temperatures in the San Antonio area ranged from 32 degrees to 37 degrees Celsius on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
“None of these people were able to get themselves out of the truck,” Hood said. “So they were still there, waiting for help, when we arrived … which means they were too weak, in a weakened state, to actually go out and help themselves.”
The White House targets smuggling networks
The White House is “closely monitoring” the situation in San Antonio, according to officials, and President Joe Biden is being briefed on the matter.
“We are closely monitoring the absolutely horrific and heartbreaking information out of San Antonio, Texas. And I can tell you that the President has been briefed and will continue to be briefed on a regular basis,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. to reporters aboard Air Force One.
“Our prayers go out to those who tragically lost their lives and loved ones, as well as those who are still fighting for their lives. We are also grateful for the quick work of federal, state and local first responders…. We will continue to act to disrupt human trafficking,” he added.
Asked what will happen to migrants still fighting for their lives, she said the administration is focused on holding smugglers to account and “continuing our historic actions to disrupt dangerous smuggling networks.”
The Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, referred to the episode on social networks. “I am heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and I am praying for those who are still fighting for their lives,” he wrote. “Too many lives have been lost as individuals – including families, women and children – take this dangerous journey.”
In his remarks Monday night, the Texas mayor also took aim at the possible culprits. “We hope that those responsible for putting these people in such inhumane conditions be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law“said Ron Nirenberg, who described the events as a “horrible human tragedy”.
Mexico opens investigation and will cover funeral and repatriation expenses
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office will open an investigation into what happened, Ebrard reported this Tuesday on social networks.
The minister said he had a call with Mexico’s attorney general, Alejandro Gertz Manero, who said an investigation into the deaths has been opened and a team will travel to Texas.
In addition, the National Institute of Migration of Mexico (INM) reported This Tuesday in a statement that, in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they will be covering the funeral expenses and the repatriation of the bodies of the Mexicans who were found dead inside the trailer of a truck in San Antonio, Texas this Monday.
“The INM, through its representative offices in the states of the country, will maintain communication with the relatives of the Mexican migrants who have suffered, so that as soon as possible they can receive the remains of their loved ones and carry out burial in the places of origin,” the statement detailed.
The INM regretted the events and condemned those responsible.
Two people charged with “possession of a weapon”
Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao were charged with “Possession of a Weapon by an Illegal Alien in the United States,” according to criminal complaints filed Monday in Federal District Court. for the Western District of Texas.
Authorities were able to locate the men after they responded to an industrial area referring to people deceased inside a truck trailer, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit stated, “Officers investigated the Texas registration plate on the semi-trailer and found a residence in San Antonio, Texas as the truck’s registered address with Texas motor vehicle records.”
The San Antonio Police Department proceeded to set up surveillance at the residence “and observed a Ford F-250 leaving the residence with a single Hispanic male at the wheel. Officers stopped the F-250 and identified Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao as the driver and sole occupant. D’Luna-Bilbao informed officers of the presence of a firearm in the center console of the F-250…”, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also states that, during the surveillance of the same house, the authorities were able to “observe a van leaving the residence occupied by a young Hispanic man. Officers stopped the truck and identified Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez as the driver.”
It was during a search of the same residence “based on information obtained during a related, but separate traffic stop,” that they were able to locate multiple firearms in D’Luna-Mendez’s bedroom, according to the affidavit.
CNN has not been able to determine if either has an attorney.
Truck carrying migrants falsified federal and state identification numbers
The owner of a trucking company in South Texas says the truck where dozens of immigrants were found dead in San Antonio used the same federal and state identification numbers as one of his vehicles.
Felipe Betancourt Jr., co-owner of Betancourt Trucking and Harvesting in Alamo, Texas, says images of the truck in San Antonio show it displayed his company’s federal Department of Transportation number and the Texas Department of Transportation identification numbers of one of their trucks. This was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News.
Betancourt, 33, said the truck in San Antonio, which is the same color as his red Volvo semi, is not owned by his company. A photo of Betancourt’s truck shows that his truck bears the company logo, name and city along with numbers, while the truck in San Antonio shows only identification numbers.
A search of the US DOT and Texas DOT numbers posted on the truck found in San Antonio showed that the numbers had been registered to Betancourt’s company.
“We are not tied to that truck at all,” Betancourt told CNN. “We don’t know who owns that vehicle.”
Under Texas law, a commercial motor vehicle that has three or more axles is required to have identification markings on each side of the power unit. Federal regulations require vehicles to display the company name along with identification numbers.
Betancourt said the refrigerated semis are insulated and intended to keep temperatures stable. But “if you bring something hot inside, it won’t let the heat escape. Temperatures can reach up to 125-130 degrees when the doors are closed.”
He said he and his father have worked in the trucking industry for decades and own about 11 trucks. The company, which operates primarily in the Rio Grande Valley, focuses on the transportation of crops and grains, only making trips north to San Antonio a few times a year to transport watermelons. Currently, they have three semis doing tours in the Rio Grande Valley, Betancourt said.
“I imagine that the criminals attacked us, our company, because we are nobody. We are small and we didn’t even go out of state,” she said.
The flow of migrants across the border
US authorities are working to better manage the flow of migrants toward the US-Mexico border, Mayorkas told CNN earlier this month.
His operation builds on earlier efforts to go after the smugglers migrants often rely on on their way to the border.
Last spring, the Department of Homeland Security also announced an effort to crack down on smuggling criminal organizations, along with federal partners.
Rescues on the southern border of the United States have exceeded this 2022 those of the last fiscal year. Since October, there have been more than 14,000 searches and rescues along the southern border, according to Customs and Border Protection, including rescues at water crossings. This figure is higher than the 12,833 searches and rescues in fiscal year 2021, when there are still more than three months to go.
What Alejandro Giammattei, President of Guatemala, said about the truck located in Texas
Alejandro Giammattei, president of Guatemala, told CNN on Tuesday that now the first thing is to try to identify the people who died inside the truck that was located in San Antonio, Texas, and then start the repatriation process. The president indicated that they are asking the US authorities to hand over those responsible for these events so that they can be prosecuted in Guatemala.