Truck tragedy recalls fight to stop migrant deaths | Government and politics

By CHRIS MEGERIAN and ELLIOT SPAGAT – Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Drowned in the Rio Grande. Murdered in Mexico. Perished in the Arizona desert. For migrants traveling to the United States, the journey has always been fraught with peril.

A tragic reminder came this week when at least 51 people died after being abandoned in the back of a tractor-trailer in sweltering San Antonio. Authorities believe the vehicle was part of a human smuggling operation.

While the scale of the calamity was shocking, it is just the most recent example to illustrate how US officials have struggled to find the right strategy to patrol the border and prevent deaths.

A lax enforcement may encourage more people to travel north in hopes of a better life. But repression is not always dissuasive. Instead, migrants may rely on riskier routes to avoid detection, or put themselves in the hands of smugglers who promise they can evade authorities for a price.

The San Antonio tragedy has sparked familiar reactions across the American political spectrum, indicating that a solemn record of the deadliest smuggling attempt in the country’s history will do little or nothing to reshape a debate that has paralyzed Washington. for decades. The finger pointing began almost immediately.

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President Joe Biden, in Europe this week for international summits, said the deaths were “horrific and heartbreaking”.

“Exploiting vulnerable people for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my administration will continue to do everything possible to prevent human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who seek to enter the United States between ports of entry,” Biden said.

The migrants were discovered on Monday when a city worker heard a call for help coming from the abandoned truck that was parked on the side of a side road. Dozens were already dead; others died in nearby hospitals.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who invests billions of state dollars in border security, tweeted hours after the gruesome discovery that the deaths were “on Biden.”

“They are the result of his murderous open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his failure to enforce the law,” Abbott said.

Immigration advocates disagreed with Abbott’s criticisms and said Biden was too focused on law enforcement. A federal judge has upheld a Trump-era policy that denies many migrants the chance to seek asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“If the Biden administration continues to unlawfully push back migrants and deny them the ability to rightfully seek asylum, individuals and families fleeing persecution, war and climate disasters will continue to face violence. and death,” advocacy group RAICES Texas said in a statement.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One — as Biden flew between summits in Germany and Spain — that the administration was focused on victims and held the smugglers responsible.

“The thing is, the border is closed, which is part of why you see people trying to make this dangerous journey using smuggling rings,” she said.

The United Nations migration agency reported that nearly 3,000 people have gone missing or died trying to cross the border between Mexico and the United States since 2014. The tragedy in San Antonio brought the total to nearly of 300 for the first half of this year.

The International Organization for Migration, as well as the UN refugee agency, have called for a swift investigation.

“Without sufficient pathways to safety, vulnerable and desperate people will continue to be preyed upon by smugglers or forced to resort to desperate measures to cross borders,” said Matthew Reynolds, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees in the United States and the Caribbean.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which counts deaths differently, reported that 557 people died at the Southwest border in the 12 months ending September 30, more than double the number 247 deaths reported the previous year and the highest since it started tracking in 1998.

Deaths became commonplace at the border after “Operation Gatekeeper,” launched in 1994, pushed migrant smuggling into the Arizona deserts from San Diego. Despite billions of dollars spent each year on border security since then, neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have been able to stem the loss of life.

Migrants routinely take risks to enter the United States.

Jose Castillo, 43, left Nicaragua with his wife and 14-year-old son in January but did not cross the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Texas, until May, paralyzed by fear of drowning. He and his wife finally decided that one of them could die, as long as their child made it out safe and sound. They took a chance – and it worked.

“We can never go back to Nicaragua,” he said.

Under Trump and Biden, Border Patrol agents have been in extremely high demand as they spend long periods processing cases in immigration court. Such responsibilities take them out of the way, making it easier for people to cross undetected. The Border Patrol recently began releasing tens of thousands of migrants on parole in hopes of releasing more officers on the ground to try to arrest the migrants.

The number of people crossing the border illegally is at or near its highest in about two decades. Decisions to migrate are complex, but many people may go unnoticed and encourage others to come. Successful migrants sometimes tell their stories to family and friends back home, encouraging them to follow.

At the same time, Title 42 encouraged repeated attempts to cross the border because there are no legal consequences, such as criminal charges or deportation records, for getting caught. Many people go through several times until they succeed.

It is unclear whether any of the migrants who died in San Antonio had ever been deported.

Isis Peña, 45, fled Honduras with a friend, who urged her to cross the border illegally. Peña refused but began to regret her decision after the friend quickly called from San Antonio to say she got off easy and the US authorities didn’t even ask her questions before she was released. .

The next day, Peña attempted to cross. Although she crossed the river, she was deported to Mexico under the authority of Title 42.

Spagat reported from San Diego.

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