tags: Press Releases

As Scale of Tragedy in San Antonio Escalates, Increased Focus on Humanity of Victims and Reminders of Policy Failures

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Washington, DC – The scale of the tragedy in the tractor trailer near San Antonio is massive, with the death toll now at 53 men, women, and children. As details continue to emerge, the earlier reflection of Mario Carrillo, Texas-based Campaigns Director for America’s Voice, remains appropriate: “each had dreams, families and futures. They each represented the most basic human desire – to make the most of their time on this earth to make a contribution to their loved ones. They risked everything for a better life.” 

Below, we highlight recent coverage underscoring the humanity and backgrounds emerging about the victims, including select coverage from Spanish-language press. 

Additionally, the deaths are an indictment of our continued policy failures and reliance on deterrence-only approaches. Restricting legal immigration and refugees severely, through policies like Remain in Mexico, or closing ports of entry to asylum seekers and Title 42, collectively contributes to people taking ever greater risks, with ever greater death tolls, whether it is in trucks or boats or in the hands of smugglers.

In a must-read op-ed in the San Antonio Express News, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, writes why the tragedy underscores the “urgent need for reform” (an op-ed we excerpt below): 

The human dimensions of the tragedy in San Antonio

The Spanish-language press has extensively covered the human side of this tragedy, directly interviewing parents and relatives of some of the victims in their countries of origin. Stories like these stand out:

Noticias Telemundo “Estaban ansiosos por hacer el viaje”: una madre perdió a sus dos hijos en el camión (Video)

Karen Caballero, from Honduras, lost her two sons in the tragedy. Caballero told Noticias Telemundo that “they were eager to make the trip. Every day they asked me, ‘Mommy, when are we going to leave?’ It seemed like they were going to a birthday party, like when they were little kids they would get like this, ‘Mommy, when are we going to the birthday.”

“They told me, ‘Mommy, when we are there we are going to build your little house’ and I told them, ‘I no longer need the little house because you are no longer going to be here,’” added Caballero.

Noticias Telemundo Eran primos, tenían 13 años y “por la pobreza se fueron” de Guatemala. Terminaron muertos en el camión de Texas (Video)

“Melvin and Wilmer, both 13 years old and cousins, made the trip to the US to help their families in Guatemala. The kid’s aunt, Laura Tepaz, told Noticias Telemundo that they were very happy to have reached US soil. “They wanted a better future because here in Guatemala you earn nothing.”

Leading English outlets have been highlighting the backgrounds of the victims as well, including: 

  • The Washington Post, “Texas migrant tragedy brings grief to families back home”: “As the medical examiner’s office began the painstaking process of identifying victims, families across Mexico and Central America have begun learning that loved ones who left in search of a future in the United States are among the 53 dead. A portrait of those who were inside the tractor-trailer is slowly coming together. The migrants hailed from as far away as the remote Mayan village of Nahuala, high in the mountains of Guatemala. Some had been in the United States before. Others had plans to reunite with relatives. Most were young and sought to accomplish simple dreams such as earning enough to build a home. Two of the youngest were 13.”
  • The Associated Press reported on the Guatemalan victims and their families:  “‘Mom, we’re on our way out.’ That was the last voice message Wilmer Tulul, a 13-year-old Guatemalan boy, sent to his mother in Quiché – his native language – back to his village in the mountains of western Guatemala before boarding a tractor-trailer in South Texas. Hours later, the bodies of dozens of migrants were found dead inside the trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio, including that of Wilmer. The boy left Guatemala on June 14 with his cousin to try to reach Houston and meet relatives to try to start a new life and help his parents.”

An indictment of failed, deterrence-only policies and a call to action on immigration reform

Meanwhile, leading policy voices have recognized that the tragedy should be a call to action on immigration and an indictment of our current approach. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) characterized, it should spark, “a ‘Uvalde moment’ … an interest in finding a bipartisan approach to dealing with immigration.”  

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, wrote an op-ed for the San Antonio Express News: “Migrant deaths in San Antonio show urgent need for reform”: 

“The failures of Title 42 show us the problem of relying on antiquated laws to solve modern challenges. We need updated laws and policies that are responsive to current conditions. That includes surging resources to ports of entry for asylum processing, hiring more civilian ‘Border Patrol processing coordinators’ and creating noncustodial migrant processing centers that bring together government agencies and NGOs to humanely process protection seekers.

We also need to update our legal immigration system. One proven way to reduce irregular migration is to increase legal immigration, giving people a better and safer pathway to come to the United States. But despite the popular belief that people can simply “get in line” to immigrate, no such line exists. Even for those who qualify, backlogs can be so long that some will die of old age before a visa becomes available. No wonder some choose to migrate.

Rather than yet another failed attempt to deter our way out of migration, Monday’s tragedy shows that we need to make a sustained investment in updating our laws to expand legal pathways, create an orderly humanitarian protection system and address the root causes of migration. But so long as Title 42 remains in place, we cannot make progress in that direction.”