San Antonio mass death in tractor-trailer highlights dangerous plight of migrants

46 migrants were found dead in the trailer.

June 28, 2022, 10:47 AM

At least 46 people were killed dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, and four more have died at a nearby hospital in what may be one of the largest mass migrant casualty events in recent U.S. history.

At least 22 of the deceased are Mexican citizens, seven Guatemalan citizens and two Honduran citizens, according to Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, citing information provided by U.S. authorities. The other victims have yet to be identified.

This isn’t the first time migrants have been killed en masse while attempting the dangerous journey to cross the border into the U.S.

The dangers of migrating

The United States–Mexico border in particular has become one of the deadliest places for migrants to cross in the world, with the number of deaths growing each year, the International Organization for Migration reports.

There have also been hundreds of others who die alone or in smaller groups while crossing. Many of them are in search of a better quality of living, hoping to escape natural disasters, violence, poverty or inequality, according to the International Organization for Migration.

PHOTO: First responders work the scene where 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, June 27, 2022, in San Antonio.
Police and other first responders work 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, June 27, 2022, in San Antonio.
Eric Gay/AP

The organization’s Missing Migrants Project documented at least 2,980 deaths in the region since 2014.

Many take potentially perilous routes that would potentially allow them to bypass strict immigration policies, such as the Trump-era policy of expelling migrants and keeping them in Mexico to wait for their asylum hearings or the use of Title 42 to expel migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum.

Border officials have continuously stopped several tractor-trailers attempting to smuggle dozens of migrants into the U.S., according to border enforcement officials.

"Horrified at this tragic loss of life near San Antonio," Chris Magnus, commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told reporters Monday. "This speaks to the desperation of migrants who would put their lives in the hands of callous human smugglers who show no regard for human life."

Tractor-trailer deaths

In 2017, eight people were found dead alongside about 30 others who were injured inside a semitrailer parked in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas. The death toll was later increased to 10 when two others died while being treated at a hospital.

The driver, ​​James Matthew Bradley, Jr., was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole.

PHOTO: In 2017, eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio.
In 2017, eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio.
Eric Gay/AP, FILE

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus called it a "horrific tragedy” and said such trafficking "is not an isolated incident. This happens quite frequently ... Fortunately, there are people who survived, but this happens all the time.”

In 2003, 19 people were killed after being trapped in a dairy truck, in which temperatures rose above 170 degrees as migrants tried to escape the insulated trailer.

The driver stopped in Victoria, Texas, where he abandoned the trailer. There were 55 survivors.

The truck driver, Tyrone Williams, was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.

PHOTO: In 2003, 18 migrant's bodies were found in the back of an 18-wheeler in Victoria, Texas, on May 14.
In 2003, 18 migrant's bodies were found in the back of an 18-wheeler in Victoria, Texas, on May 14.
Kerri L. Spires/Getty Images, FILE

In 1987, according to the Texas Tribune, 19 men were killed when they were left locked in a heavily insulated boxcar for hours. Only one man survived.

These kinds of deaths are a global problem. In October 2019, 39 Vietnamese migrants suffocated to death in the United Kingdom after being locked in a trailer while being smuggled. Four men connected with the incident were jailed.

Other mass migrant deaths

Several similar incidents involving motor vehicles have caused dozens of deaths over the years.

In August 2021, at least 10 people died and 20 others were injured after a van carrying 29 migrants crashed in South Texas.

Not long before that, in March 2021, 13 people were killed in Southern California when a sports utility vehicle filled with 25 passengers drove into the path of a tractor-trailer and crashed.

In 2019, undocumented migrants had packed into a car that later crashed when police began to chase the driver. Six people died when the vehicle veered into a ditch.

And in 2012, a pickup truck carrying about 20 undocumented migrants crashed and killed 15 people.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events