51 Migrants Found Dead in Trailer in San Antonio

Biden administration invites peril, and sends the wrong messages

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 28, 2022

Multiple outlets are reporting that at least 51 suspected migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer, which was found on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas. Three people are in custody. The Biden administration’s border policies are inviting such peril, abetted by the rookie CBP commissioner who is sending the wrong message in response.

Texas Heatwave. It’s unusually hot in south Texas, even by local standards. Reuters reported that the demand for power in the Lone Star state hit a new record on June 23, due in part to the heatwave that had settled in there, prompting customers to crank up their air conditioners.

In the city of Crockett, Texas, east of Waco, it was so hot on June 20 that asphalt on a four-mile stretch of Loop 304 started to melt. On June 23, when the temperature was forecast to hit 100 degrees, the Fox affiliate in San Antonio warned: “The weekend will trend a bit hotter with temperatures reaching into triple digits Saturday and Sunday.” By Monday, it was 103 in San Antonio, with high humidity.

Tractor-Trailer Found. It was in the midst of this semi-literal inferno that authorities on the evening of June 27 were alerted to a trailer with its doors partially opened on the 9600 block of Quintana Road, a lonely stretch in the southwest side of San Antonio between I-35 and I-410. A worker nearby had heard cries for help from the vehicle and called the police.

Inside, fire officials found “stacks of bodies”, with individuals too weak to leave under their own power. Forty-six of those inside, men and women, teens to young adults, were found dead from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, asphyxiation, or some combination of the three. There was no air conditioning in the trailer, and no water.

First responders on the scene assisted 12 adults and four minors out of the trailer. They were “hot to the touch”. According to the Mexican consulate, the 16 were transported to four local hospitals.

How horrific was it? San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood reported that 60 of his officers will undergo “behavioral assessments” after they responded to the scene.

Border Insecurity and “Got-Aways”. This isn’t supposed to happen, and usually doesn’t. Normally, Border Patrol agents apprehend most illegal migrants shortly after they cross the border, process them, remove some, detain others, and release a select few.

These are not “normal times”.

As I have explained, the Biden administration has ditched the border strategy employed by every prior administration — deterring illegal entrants — in favor of a policy of expediting the processing and release of nearly all illegal migrants. Why? Because it views every migrant who can make it across the border as an “asylum applicant”, and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas now believes that his job is to provide “safe, orderly, and legal pathways for individuals to be able to access our legal system” — not to keep foreign nationals from entering.

That may sound like an insane exaggeration, but here is the proof, from Mayorkas’ appearance on Fox News Sunday on May 1 with host Bret Baier.

Baier asked Mayorkas whether it is “the objective of the Biden administration to reduce, sharply reduce the total number of illegal immigrants coming across the southern border? Is that the objective?”

Mayorkas responded: “It is the objective of the Biden administration to make sure that we have safe, orderly, and legal pathways for individuals to be able to access our legal system.”

In other words, we should not stop illegal migrants because they are all potential asylum seekers, and therefore we must let them in to apply — whether they request asylum or not.

It requires a rather dim and dour view of the rest of the world — and a chauvinistic attitude about the moral superiority of the United States — to conclude that this is the only haven on earth for the globally oppressed. That said, perhaps an argument could be made for extending protection to all comers.

The problem is that the 1,954-mile Southwest border is protected by a relatively small number of Border Patrol agents — 16,878 in total as of the end of FY 2020 (the last year for which staffing totals were released).

The border is a 24/7 job, and those agents work 50 hours per week, which means that at any given time there are just over 5,023 agents “on the line” patrolling the border — 2.5 agents per mile. Drug- and human-smugglers know this, so as former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott explained in September, they send large groups of migrants over all at once to draw away responding agents.

That creates “gaps” in the line that smugglers can exploit to move drugs and other migrants into the United States undetected. Migrants who evade apprehension and make their way into the interior are known as “got-aways”, and by my calculations, more than 700,000 of them have entered the United States since inauguration day.

Those 700,000 got-aways are here due to the limited Border Patrol staffing at the Southwest border and the fact that the Biden administration has ditched and abjured migrant deterrence as an immigration policy.

The Migrants in the Trailer and the CBP Commissioner’s Response. The reports from the scene in San Antonio are still sketchy, but it is safe to assume that every migrant trapped in the hellish trailer on the 9600 block of Quintana Road in southwest San Antonio were part of that flood of Biden administration got-aways. There is no reason for a migrant who was apprehended and released by Border Patrol to travel in such conditions.

It is too early to assign blame, but I am going to anyway. The three suspects who were arrested — assuming it can be proved that they are culpable — should be prosecuted and if convicted, sentenced to decades in jail. I also hope that they flip and dime out everyone else who was responsible.

The Biden administration bears much of the blame for this incident, however, too. Due to its poorly thought-out and ineptly executed policies, it created a scenario in which there are too many migrants coming across the Southwest border and too few agents to stop them.

Anyone who knows anything about the border or alien smuggling knows that migrant got-aways who are not caught will often hand themselves over to rapacious smugglers, who in turn will cut corners to transport those migrants into the United States. That is a basic fact of life.

Regrettably, the Biden administration has put a man with little practical border experience in charge of CBP — the nation’s primary border security agency.

CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus was a dispatcher, paramedic, and policy officer in Michigan before he became police chief in Fargo, N.D., and later police chief in Richmond, Calif. (“a highly diverse, urban community of 115,000 residents in the San Francisco Bay Area”).

In January 2016, he became police chief in Tucson, Ariz., a town that’s at least close to the Southwest border, but his CBP bio does not suggest he gained much border experience there. Rather, it states:

In this position, he improved police interactions with Tucson’s large immigrant community, implemented a deflection program to take individuals with substance abuse disorders to treatment instead of jail, changed how police respond to people suffering from mental illness, and developed one of the first sentinel event review boards in the policing profession.

Let me state that while I have never met Magnus, I am sure that he is a good man with the best of intentions. He just appears to be the wrong person for this job, which is likely why in response to this incident, he stated: “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.”

There is some level of simple truth in that statement — but read it again. What is the source of the “desperation” those migrants felt, to which Magnus refers?

To escape their home country or countries? Perhaps, and logically the commissioner knows more about the situation than I do, but I doubt that the migrants came across the border in that truck. They most likely entered illegally and met up with the smuggler on this side.

If they crossed in the trailer, however, Magnus’ statement is also an indictment of his own CBP officers at the ports for not stopping them, and his Border Patrol agents at the checkpoints for not finding them before they travelled 160 miles from the border to southwest San Antonio.

That said, if they simply swam or walked across the border illegally before they met up with the truck, and were “desperately” escaping persecution back home, they could have turned themselves over to Border Patrol and requested asylum.

Or perhaps Magnus is stating that they were “desperate” to evade his own Border Patrol agents. With due respect to the dead and the injured, evading agents is the most likely reason why they got into the trailer to begin with. A bus would have been risky, a car equally so (and the smuggling fee would have been higher). I-35 is packed with tractor-trailers headed north, and Border Patrol can’t search them all.

The dead and injured are plainly victims of the “callous human smugglers” to whom Magnus aptly refers. But the commissioner is alleging they were “desperate” victims before they ever met those smugglers, and asserting they handed themselves over to the smugglers to escape their “desperate” situation. His statement neatly encapsulates everything wrong with Biden’s border policy.

By and large, the United States offers a higher standard of living than the countries from which illegal migrants at the Southwest border come. Economic betterment is not a basis for asylum, however, nor is it a reason to allow foreign nationals to enter this country illegally.

Speaking of asylum, not every illegal migrant plans on making an asylum claim, and the vast majority who do apply for asylum will be denied (just 14 percent of aliens in expedited removal who claimed a fear of harm between FY 2008 and the fourth quarter of FY 2019 were granted asylum).

And contra Magnus, his agents are not the “bad guys” whom migrants can be deemed to be legitimately (and “desperately”) fleeing. Border Patrol agents are the good guys, because they stop drugs, contraband, terrorists, and migrants from entering illegally, and are willing to risk their own lives to save those migrants who put themselves in danger and fall into distress.

What happened in San Antonio was a tragedy, made all the worse because it could have been — and would have been — averted had the president done what all his predecessors did, and implement a policy to deter illegal entrants. Biden’s CBP commissioner did not ameliorate the situation by implicitly blaming his own agents for what happened, but then he likely doesn’t know any better.