“Look at me: do I look like an American to you? Do you know how many times I was called to bean-eater (expression used pejoratively in the US to refer to Latin Americans, especially Mexicans, which can be literally translated as “bean eater”)? How did I see my mother enslave herself to get some official documents? And you ask me why this moves me so much?”
At the vigil in honor of the migrants found dead on Monday (27/06) in an abandoned truck in San Antonio, in the US state of Texas, and those who died later in the city’s hospitals – 53 people in total, 40 of them men and 13 women — Wanda Pérez Torrescano can’t hide her anger.
“We are honoring people whose families still don’t know they died, who are still waiting for that phone call that says, ‘Mom, I’m at the border, I’m fine,'” she says energetically, microphone in hand, in front of the dozens of people gathered at the Wednesday (6/29) at Travis Park in downtown San Antonio.
“And I know this because I’ve been on the other end of the phone.”
Born in Mexico City and raised in San Antonio, she is not the only one who feels that the greatest migratory tragedy in memory on American soil is her tragedy as well.
Equally solemnly, the day before, Jessica from Honduras recalled how she herself stood in the shoes of migrants who were left without water or air conditioning in a truck with a temperature of 40°C outside.
“I came here when I was 14, also in a truck, and I lost consciousness because of the heat,” she said emotionally during the vigil.
Asked later if she wanted to tell her story to the BBC, she replied:
“This continues to stir up a lot of emotions in me. I still have a lot to process and I don’t feel ready to go into details.”
While all this was happening in historic downtown San Antonio, other people were paying tribute to the dead at the spot where the truck was found: a dusty road between a lumberyard and a railroad track, in a landscape littered with auto parts shops.
The first two crosses — colored — were placed on Tuesday by Angelita Olvera, the daughter of a Bolivian, and Debra Ponce, who warns that “we have to keep an eye on Texas, because civil rights as we know it are going to change.”
Since then, that little corner has been filled with flowers and candles, like those placed by Gabriela, from Honduras, and her two daughters, and with posters asking for respect and solidarity. Artist Roberto Márquez, who crossed from Tijuana to the United States 40 years ago, is painting a mural that resembles Guernica, by Pablo Picasso.
Yes, migration is always present in this city, located just 250 km north of the Mexican border.
Key city for migrant smuggling
Experts and organizations the BBC consulted for this report — as well as officials who asked that their names not be published — describe the city of 2.5 million as a “transit hub”, a strategic location where multiple routes converge. of migrants, surrounded by highways that cross the country from north to south and from east to west.
Edward Reyna, a security guard at the logging company located a few meters from where the truck was left, has lost count of the times he has seen Mexicans and Central Americans, among people of other nationalities, get off the train that passes by.
“I knew sooner or later someone would get hurt,” he told the BBC.
“The cartels that bring them don’t care.”
The migrants he encounters during his work shifts are those who have not been intercepted by immigration authorities.
In May, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service recorded nearly 240,000 “flagrants”, a third more than in the same month a year earlier.
This is despite Texas Governor Republican Greg Abbott launching Operation Lone Star in March 2021 and two months later issuing a “disaster declaration” allowing him to deploy the National Guard at the border.
All this to try to stop the increase in border crossings, which he attributes to US President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
But migrants continue to arrive and travel across the state, some hiding in trucks, which is a fairly common way of doing things in this border area and elsewhere, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera tells the BBC.
A professor at George Mason University in Virginia, Correra-Cabrera has studied migratory routes for years, including the one that goes from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to Laredo, in the United States, passing through the most important land customs post for goods in the hemisphere.
That alone makes it impossible to control all the loads that pass through that bridge every day, explains the expert.
“There are no official figures, but it is estimated that less than 5% (of cargoes) are examined.”
She clarifies, however, that smuggling of migrants in trucks does not necessarily start in Mexico. Based on testimonies she herself compiled, Correra-Cabrera says that, in some cases, drug dealers pick them up in trucks already on the Texas side.
That’s what Department of Homeland Security investigators leading the investigation believe happened in the abandoned truck case on Monday, Congressman Henry Cuellar told the AP news agency.
Those who go; those who stay
Regardless of how they arrive, by whatever means of transport, most migrants arriving in San Antonio are just passing through, immigration officials confirm. They usually stay overnight in accommodation provided by different organizations that support them, at the airport or at the bus station.
But there are those who stay, like Lemi, a Cuban who arrived four years ago and works as a taxi driver in the city. His plan is, sometime next year, to go with his wife and 11-month-old son to Florida.
Or his compatriot José, who, after going through great difficulties in the Darién jungle, between Colombia and Panama, in Ecuador and other countries he passed through, crossed to the US and surrendered to immigration in May.
As soon as he was released, he took a bus — on which he told me his story — bound for San Antonio.
Another who has stayed in the city, at least for now, is Carlos, a 34-year-old Venezuelan migrant who has also crossed several countries to get there.
When he reached Mexico’s southern border, he decided the best way to go north was by motorcycle.
“In Monclova (a Mexican city on the US border) I had an accident, they operated on me and now I have a sign here,” he says, pointing to his left thigh.
While he regains strength in his leg to be able to work, he is at the Pousada Guadalupe, run by Father Phil Ley.
A native of Indiana, he set up the first migrant shelter in San Antonio 16 years ago.
“I started to receive people sent from hospitals, because they were injured or were diabetic and needed dialysis. Until a lawyer (specialized in immigration) asked me for permission to house a client who had just turned 18 and could no longer stay at the Center Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for minors) for minors,” he tells the BBC.
“That’s how the word got around to other lawyers,” he says, and his shelter turned out to be especially for young migrants. On Wednesday, there were 21 of them there.
“Tomorrow another one arrives, and another one on Saturday”, he says.
Asked what happened to the abandoned truck with migrants inside, he says it’s a disgrace that “saddens and infuriates him at the same time”.
These are the same feelings that Wanda Pérez shared with those present at the Wednesday vigil, people who feel the tragedy as their own, the same feelings of everyone who spoke to the BBC for this report and described the event as a “mass murder”. .
“Tragedies like this make the problem visible, while making us think about how sophisticated these networks are, how many people and how much money is involved, and how little we know about all this”, concludes researcher Correra-Cabrera.
Have you watched our new videos on YouTube? Subscribe to our channel!