Yesterday, the bodies of 51 immigrants were found dead in the back of an abandoned tractor-trailer in San Antonio, in the deadliest border crossing incident in U.S. history. The bodies were found covered with steak seasoning, possibly an attempt by smugglers to hide the scent of the corpses rotting in the sun.
Only sixteen people survived the journey.
“Once again, the lack of courage to deal with immigration reform is killing and destroying lives. We do not learn,“ San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller wrote on Twitter. “God teach us to change. Humanity is at stake constantly. We pray, we love, we trust. Give us strength! We want to do your will.”
The deaths are not an isolated incident.
Precise numbers of migrants who have died crossing the border are unknown, since the federal government stopped tracking them in 2020. However, according to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, at least 650 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021, the highest number recorded by the group since they began tracking border-crossing deaths in 2014.
Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott was quick to blame Joe Biden for the loss of life.
“These deaths are on Biden. They are a result of his deadly open border policies,” wrote Abott on Twitter. “They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Pro-immigration activists also fault the Biden Administration for being culpable in the deaths of these migrants. Many immigrants, seeking asylum from violence in other countries, would prefer to cross at port-of-entries and wait in the US for asylum status.
Under Title 42, both the Trump and Biden administrations have been expelling immigrants seeking asylum status, forcing them to wait in Mexico. Both administrations claimed that they need to keep asylum seekers in Mexico in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into the United States.
Title 42 has been used more than two million times to expel asylum seekers at the border. This forces migrants to pick riskier routes to enter the country.
“Cruel immigration policies like Title 42 have decimated our asylum system, and forced people to make unimaginable choices in their journey to seek safety and refuge in the U.S,” RAICES Texas, an immigrant rights group, said in a statement. “Seeking asylum is a human right and President Biden should have ended Title 42 on day one of his administration.”
Other immigration activists echoed similar sentiments.
“They trusted the people shuttling them into a tractor-trailer like cattle without water more than they trusted the U.S. government to provide a clear path to citizenship,” said Moníca Ramírez of Justice Migrant Workers. “They faced exploitation and ultimately death because there were no safe options.”
Despite the risks, many observers expect that the border crossings will continue.
“People in Latin America know that their countrypeople are drowning in the Rio Grande or cooking to death in the back of trucks. And yet people still come,” wrote Texas Monthly Senior Editor Jack Herrara on Twitter. “So what deterrence do you imagine will work? What gauntlet do you imagine that’s more terrifying than what we’ve seen today?”