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Officials: 53 migrants abandoned in tractor-trailer have died

Officials: 53 migrants abandoned in tractor-trailer have died
Bexar County officials said 53 migrants have died after being abandoned in a tractor-trailer on the side of a San Antonio road. Photo courtesy of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff/Twitter

June 29 (UPI) -- Fifty-three migrants who were found in the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer that was abandoned by the side of a San Antonio road have died, officials said Wednesday, increasing the death toll from 51 a day prior.

The Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office said 48 people died at the scene Monday, the day the truck was discovered.

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Medical officials told KSAT-TV in San Antonio that five people who were transported to area hospitals have since died.

"The inscription on our Statue of Liberty says, 'Give me your tired, your poor and your huddled masses yearning to breath free.'" Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said during a news conference Tuesday, when the death toll stood at 51. "Today, we mourn for those 51 immigrants who came to us to breath that fresh air, but instead found death in the state of Texas."

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Tom Peine, assistant public information officer for Bexar County, said teenagers could be among the deceased but that will be determined by the medical examiner as well as each victim's cause of death.

"This work will take days, if not longer," he said Tuesday.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico's foreign minister, said 22 of the victims were Mexican, seven were Guatemalans and two were Hondurans with others yet to be identified.

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"We are in mourning. Huge tragedy," he tweeted. "Mexico joins investigations in the U.S., coordinated with the [Department of Homeland Security]."

Authorities said the tractor-trailer was found Monday evening with the bodies of 48 people inside without water or air conditioning. Sixteen people, including children, were found alive and transported to local hospitals suffering from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Francisco Garduño, chief of Mexico's National Immigration Institute, said the truck contained 67 migrants total.

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At least three people have been detained in connection with the deaths with federal prosecutors charging two of them, Juan Claudio D'luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D'Luna-Bilbao.

Authorities arrested the alleged driver of the truck, Homero Zamorano, 45, after they found him near the abandoned truck, the San Antonio Express-News reported. He was expected to appear in federal court Wednesday.

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"He was very high on meth when he was arrested nearby and had to be taken to the hospital," a law enforcement officer said.

According to court documents filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, the two Mexican citizens were charged separately with "possession of a weapon by an alien illegally in the United States."

U.S. President Joe Biden mourned the loss of life in a statement Tuesday, stating preliminary information indicates that "this tragedy was caused by smugglers or human traffickers who have no regard for the lives they endanger and exploit to make a profit."

"Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry," he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris told NPR on Tuesday that the Biden administration was taking the issue of human smuggling "seriously."

"There have been over 2,000 arrests just in the last three months. I think there are at least eight indictments that have happened. We need to deal with that, right, in terms of the consequences of criminal behavior that results in death," she said.

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"We also need to take seriously the fact that we have a broken immigration system that was decimated by the last administration. And we've been trying, and we are on the path doing it, to fix that broken system."

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