The secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, repeated warnings against attempting to illegally cross the US-Mexico border on Sunday after 53 died inside a trailer in San Antonio, Texas, last week in the deadliest ever migrant smuggling episode at the border.
“These migrants received false information from smugglers,” Mayorkas told CBS’s Face the Nation. “They put their lives, their life savings, in the hands of these exploitative organizations, these criminal organizations that do not care for their lives and only seek to make a profit.”
The justice department has charged four men in connection with the case, which came as a UN migrant tracking group has said that more migrants died or went missing in 2021 at the border than any year since at least 2014.
In 2022 alone, according to the Migrant Project, at least 297 migrants have died or gone missing while attempting a border crossing.
“We saw so tragically in San Antonio … one of the possible tragic results of that dangerous journey, and so many people don’t even make it that far in the hands of exploitative smugglers,” Mayorkas said.
The increasing loss of life at the US-Mexico border comes as migrants from central America have reported that Mexican migrant smugglers – called “coyotes” – have raised prices with little regard for migrant safety. Penalties for human smuggling in the US are far less than for drug smuggling, often making the practice more attractive to cartel-affiliated smugglers charging about $20,000 a person to facilitate the crossing.
Last week, the US supreme court sided with Joe Biden’s administration in the president’s plan to end the Trump White House’s “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy that required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications were processed.
“Their proceedings will continue in immigration court, where they will pursue their claims for asylum,” Mayorkas said Sunday. “And if those claims are unsuccessful, they will be swiftly removed from the United States.”
Allowing migrants to await processing inside the US will reduce their vulnerability to human traffickers and with it horrific incidents like last week’s loss of life, human rights groups contend.
Since the discovery, Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has ordered law enforcement officials to inspect more trucks, again expanding the state’s border security mission as crossing along the entire southern border are at or near the highest in two decades.
US authorities stopped migrants from crossing illegally 523,000 times between January and May, up from 417,000 over the same span a year ago. There were around 240,000 stops in May, up by one-third from a year ago. Authorities say 25% of such encounters in May involved people who had been stopped at least once in the previous year.
Mayorkas said the US was working with Mexico to break up caravans of migrants reported to be massing on the Mexican side of the border.