The gruesome discovery took place Monday night in the city of San Antonio, when a city worker heard a call for help and cracked open the trailer door, police chief William McManus said.
Rescuers then found 46 corpses and sixteen “conscious” people, including four children, who were transferred to nearby hospitals, said fire chief Charles Hood.
After a day marked by temperatures close to 40 degrees, “the patients were hot to the touch, they suffered from heatstroke, exhaustion”, he added during a press conference.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador assured Tuesday that the death toll had risen to 50, including “22 from Mexico, seven from Guatemala, two from Honduras”. “It’s a huge misfortune,” he noted.
His American counterpart, who has just arrived in Madrid for a NATO summit, has not yet reacted. But Joe Biden “is following the absolutely horrible news very closely” from Texas, said his spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre.
– Three arrests –
The opposition immediately seized on the drama, one of the worst in immigration matters in American history, to attack the Democratic president.
“These deaths are to be attributed to Biden. They are the result of his deadly policy of open borders,” attacked Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott.
“Human traffickers exploit our open borders and the most vulnerable pay with their lives,” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Slowed during the pandemic, migrant arrivals increased sharply after the election of Joe Biden and the city of San Antonio, located 240 km from the border, is an important stopover before continuing the journey to the north of the United States .
The city’s mayor, Ron Nirenberg, lamented “a horrible tragedy” and “hoped that those responsible for putting these people in such inhumane conditions will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.
Three people were arrested, according to the police chief. But “we don’t know if they are related to this or not,” said William McManus.
A federal investigation has been opened for “suspicion of human trafficking”, announced the Department of Homeland Security.
Border guards are taking part in the investigations, said their chief Chris Magnus, for whom the tragedy illustrates “the despair of migrants ready to put their lives in the hands of insensitive smugglers”.
Some 60 firefighters have been mobilized to take care of the remains and will receive psychological support, said their leader.
– “Pain” –
Trucks such as the one found in San Antonio are a means of transport frequently used by migrants wishing to enter the United States. Such a trip is extremely dangerous, especially since these vehicles are rarely air-conditioned and their occupants quickly run out of water.
In July 2017, a similar tragedy had marked the spirits: ten migrants had died in an overheated trailer parked in a supermarket parking lot near San Antonio.
At the time, the immigration services indicated that the temperature in the trailer, where dozens of migrants had taken place, could have risen to 65°C. The driver of the truck had been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Pope Francis expressed Tuesday his “pain” for this “tragedy”, which he compared to that of the Spanish enclave of Melilla in Morocco, where at least 23 migrants perished on Friday.
The UN said it was “deeply troubled”.
“This is not the first tragedy of its kind, and it illustrates once again the crucial need for safe legal channels for migration,” said a spokeswoman for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina, from Geneva. Shamdasani.