53 people have now died from hyperthermia trapped in a sealed truck found in Texas, 160 miles from the U.S. Mexico border where outside temperatures reached 109F (39C) last week.
Of the dozen who survived the horrific conditions when the truck, near San Antonio, was finally opened on Monday morning after a worker heard cries for help, several have died in hospital.
The role of borders and restrictive immigration policies
It is suspected that the victims crossed into the U.S. using irregular migration routes. We now know that the victims were from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. This is the worst case of migrant deaths due to smuggling in the U.S.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador blamed poverty and trafficking. At a briefing he said: “It happens because there is trafficking of people and a lack of control, in this case at the Mexican-US border, but also in the US interior”.
However, we must be careful not to conflate trafficking and smuggling. To establish trafficking we must prove the act of recruiting, transporting etc by threat, deception, abduction for the purposes of exploitation. Smuggling is the unlawful movement of a person across borders for financial gain.
The most effective way to end smuggling is to provide safe routes of migration. This would both undermine smugglers’ business model, which relies on the lack of safe alternative options, and prevent future tragedies like this.
Emily Kenway writes on Open Democracy:
These deaths were predictable and preventable. They are the product of two factors: increasingly militarised borders and the continuing determination of people to cross those borders despite that militarisation. Just last month, the number of people apprehended crossing the border from Mexico into the USA surpassed previous records. Deaths are breaking records as well. At least 650 people died in 2021, the highest figure since records began. It’s clear that making borders harder to cross isn’t stopping people from trying. It’s only pushing them to take riskier routes, raising the risks of injury and death.
Why we need safe migration
Policies that make it hard for people to move, whether for a better life, to escape persecution, the effects of climate change or war, only encourage smuggling as people are forced into taking greater risks.
These risks led to death this week in Texas. For obvious reasons, we hear much less about the risks migrants face of being exploited for their labor or sexual abuse, as unscrupulous traffickers take advantage of the lack of safe options available.
That’s why Freedom United is calling for safe migration as an effective strategy to help prevent trafficking. With safe routes, people can migrate without being made vulnerable to criminals.