Before arriving, they had to face a dangerous, even deadly journey. Monday, an overheated and overloaded truck was found in this Texas city: among its passengers, 53 people died, one of the worst tragedies of immigration in the United States.
Thousands of people pass through San Antonio every year after crossing the border into Mexico, some 240 km away. A first step before rallying other American cities in search of a better future.
Edwin Sanchez is among the first in line. He left his native Venezuela on May 12, arrived 5 days ago in San Antonio and hopes to get to New York soon, where an acquaintance has promised him a job.
“We expect a little help. With one or two days of work, I can pay for the ticket,” he said.
This 42-year-old man entered the United States through a border crossing despite “Title 42”, a measure inherited from the Trump era which allows the deportation of any migrant without a visa, even applicants for asylum, on the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The implementation of this measure is uneven: it concerns few Venezuelans and Cubans, more Mexicans and migrants from Central America.
Regardless of how they cross the border, if they are coming from northeastern Mexico, they are likely to pass through San Antonio, a city of nearly 1.5 million people.
– “Perfect place of passage” –
There is an airport, a bus station and many connections to the rest of the country, explains Roger Enriquez, professor of criminology at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“It is at the crossroads of major highways: I-10, which connects California to Florida, and I-35, which goes from Laredo, on the southern border, to Minnesota, in the north. It is a perfect place to go.”
This location unfortunately also attracts smugglers, who take advantage of the fact that 63% of the inhabitants are Hispanic to go unnoticed, reports the professor.
Faced with the daily arrival of destitute migrants, several associations are mobilizing to help them. Corazón Ministries, which operates the home in the city center, is one of them.
This shelter is open every day between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. the next day, and offers migrants a dinner and a bed, says its director, Monica Sosa.
Near it, shortly before the opening, some volunteers install cots stamped with the logo of the American Red Cross.
The place, supposed to receive around 150 people, systematically accommodates more, sometimes up to 400, and many end up sleeping on the ground or in a nearby park.
“Resources are very limited, we need more help,” says Monica Sosa.
The association, financed by subsidies, helps some migrants to pay for their transport tickets, but would like to be able to do more.
– The lucrative business of smugglers –
Twenty-year-old Honduran Austin Hernandez arrived four days ago and still hasn’t been able to sleep at the hostel.
In the queue, he is sorry for the lack of help, but does not despair of reaching his destination, Austin, only 130 km away.
“The path was very difficult. I was attacked, I begged for food in the street, without success. It was cold, it was raining, I slept outside.”
“All of this has cost me dearly and I have no support to get where I’m going,” added the young man, who entered the United States by crossing the Rio Grande to escape patrols.
While he has not resorted to smugglers, desperation and tighter border controls are pushing some migrants to put their lives in the hands of these people.
The discovery of the 53 people dead on Monday is a tragic reminder of the risks of this lucrative trip for the cartels.
“It is estimated that smugglers make between 8,000 and 10,000 dollars per person, and they can put up to 100 people in a truck, which is a million in profit,” explains Professor Enriquez.
“I am surprised that there are not more tragedies, given the danger and the risks that these people take,” he concluded.