US slammed over deaths of refugees

Ten mi­grants die in locked lorry

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

ALORRY driver ac­cused of trans­port­ing 39 refugees through Texas in a locked, un­ven­ti­lated trailer may face the death penalty, or life in prison af­ter 10 peo­ple died of heat ex­po­sure and as­phyx­i­a­tion, au­thor­i­ties said.

The hor­rific in­ci­dent is the most deadly to oc­cur along the US-Mex­ico bor­der in re­cent years and comes amid plans this week to push through leg­is­la­tion that will dra­mat­i­cally boost bor­der en­force­ment and mil­i­tari­sa­tion.

Au­thor­i­ties found eight men dead in the back of a trac­tor trailer truck parked out­side a Wal­mart in San An­to­nio on Sun­day.

Dozens of oth­ers, in­clud­ing chil­dren, suf­fer­ing from de­hy­dra­tion and heat stroke, were also in­side. Two of them later died af­ter be­ing hos­pi­talised, bring­ing the death toll to 10.

A vigil was held on Sun­day by lo­cal res­i­dents to hon­our and mourn the vic­tims of the failed hu­man smug­gling at­tempt. Clergy and lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions held hand-made signs ex­press­ing their op­po­si­tion to the vi­o­lence di­rected to­ward un­doc­u­mented refugees in the US.

The driver, 60-year-old James Matthew Bradley jr, told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he was un­aware that the mi­grants were in the trailer un­til he stopped the ve­hi­cle and found dozens of dy­ing and de­hy­drated peo­ple in the back.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Bradley called his wife but failed to call 911 for emer­gency ser­vices.

Bradley faces fed­eral charges of un­law­fully trans­port­ing mi­grants for fi­nan­cial gain, re­sult­ing in death.

One of the sur­vivors de­scribed hellish con­di­tions in­side the crowded, pitch-black in­te­rior, where peo­ple were forced to take turns gasp­ing for air through a small hole in the side of the trailer.

Some passed out, while oth­ers des­per­ately shouted and banged to get the driver to stop. Their pleas were ig­nored un­til they ar­rived at the Wal­mart, the wit­ness said.

Im­mi­grants de­scribed board­ing the truck at var­i­ous points on the US side of the bor­der.

One said 70 peo­ple were al­ready in­side when he got on, while an­other es­ti­mated there were around 180 to 200 peo­ple. One said they were told they would have to pay smug­glers $5 500 (R71 688) af­ter ar­riv­ing in San An­to­nio.

While some im­mi­grants were from Mex­ico, a 20-year-old man from Gu­atemala City was among the dead. Two Gu­atemalans were found alive but were se­verely de­hy­drated.

Im­mi­grants hop­ing to en­ter the US from Mex­ico must of­ten re­sort to ex­tremely haz­ardous meth­ods to cross the bor­der.

Fre­quently, mi­grants are left with no re­course but to rely on hu­man traf­fick­ers with ties to or­gan­ised crim­i­nal groups or tra­verse the bor­der on foot.

Since 1998, the to­tal num­ber of deaths doc­u­mented by the Bor­der Pa­trol alone stands at more than 7 000, with peaks in 2005 and 2012.

“It’s shame­ful that the US in­vests bil­lions of dol­lars in bor­der se­cu­rity tech­nol­ogy and per­son­nel, yet in­no­cent peo­ple con­tinue to be smug­gled in such heinous ways,” South­ern Bor­der Com­mu­ni­ties Coali­tion di­rec­tor Chris­tian Ramirez said.

Ramirez, a Ti­juana-born or­gan­iser who has long been based in San Diego, has sought to draw at­ten­tion to the plight of mi­grants and bor­der com­mu­ni­ties through the Bush and Obama years.

On Mon­day, he ac­com­pa­nied Ari­zona Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ruben Gal­lego and other ad­vo­cates who op­pose the fund­ing and con­struc­tion of a bor­der wall that Con­gres­sional Bor­der Cau­cus mem­bers de­scribe as “an un-Amer­i­can sym­bol of ha­tred to­ward im­mi­grants who con­trib­ute so much to our coun­try”.

House Repub­li­cans are hop­ing to pass a 2018 Home­land Se­cu­rity Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Bill mid-week that in­cludes $1.6 bil­lion in fund­ing for the planned wall.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has re­lied on refugee scape­goat­ing as a key po­lit­i­cal plank, di­rect­ing men­ac­ing rhetoric against Mex­i­can and Cen­tral Amer­i­can im­mi­grants.

PIC­TURE: AP

A cou­ple visit a makeshift me­mo­rial in the park­ing lot of a Wal­mart store near where US au­thor­i­ties dis­cov­ered a trailer packed with Mex­i­can and Cen­tral Amer­i­can im­mi­grants, 10 of whom died, in San An­to­nio, Texas.

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