US slammed over deaths of refugees
Ten migrants die in locked lorry
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.
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.