Texas truck tragedy: Two men charged over US migrant truck deaths

At least 51 migrants have died after being trapped inside a sweltering tractor-trailer truck found abandoned in Texas, authorities say, as two Mexican nationals tied to the smuggling incident were charged in US federal court.

The dead migrants, 39 men and 12 women, were discovered on Monday on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, in one of the deadliest human-trafficking tragedies in recent history.

Two suspects, Mexican citizens Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, were charged with possessing firearms while residing in the US illegally, according to court documents.

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Investigators traced the truck’s registration to a San Antonio address they placed under surveillance, and arrested the two men separately as they left the residence.

A third suspect, described as a US citizen who drove the truck, was arrested and expected to be charged, but he remained in hospital as of Tuesday evening, according to a Mexican official.

The discovery of more than 50 dead migrants is “a tragedy beyond explanation”, an official says. Credit: AP

The truck had been left parked next to some railroad tracks on the outskirts of San Antonio, where temperatures soared to 39.4C.

Bodies were found in the vehicle and strewn over a couple of blocks after the rear door of the trailer had been opened, a local law enforcement official told Reuters.

Local authorities said there were no signs of water or visible means of airconditioning inside the truck. The officials said there were “stacks of bodies” and some of the migrants were hot to the touch.

“It’s unspeakable,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on MSNBC, noting his community depended on migrants while there was a labour shortage. “It’s a tragedy beyond explanation.”

US President Joe Biden said the incident was “horrifying and heartbreaking”.

“Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful,” Biden said, vowing to crack down on multibillion-dollar criminal smuggling enterprises that have helped fuel a record number of migrant crossings at the US-Mexico border since he took office in January 2021.

At least 27 Mexicans, three Guatemalans and four Hondurans are believed to be among the dead, according to officials from all three countries.

Debra Ponce and Angelita Olvera pray near the scene where officials say dozens of people have been found dead and multiple others were taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses after a semitrailer containing suspected migrants was found. Credit: AP

More than a dozen survivors were taken to hospital for heat stroke and exhaustion, including four minors.

The truck may have been carrying about 100 migrants but the exact number remains unclear.

It appeared the migrants had recently crossed the border and were picked up to be taken to where they would work, according to Mexican and US officials.

Authorities were alerted to the truck through an emergency call from a passer-by flagged down for help by a migrant who had escaped from the truck, the officials said.

The victims were found sprinkled with a pungent substance believed to be steak seasoning, officials said, a practice some smugglers use to mask the scent of human cargo and evade canine detection.

The surviving migrants will likely be released into the US to pursue asylum or other forms of humanitarian relief, US officials said.

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