As the death toll from a deserted tractor-trailer packed with illegal immigrants that was found on Monday topped 50, officials announced that two Mexican nationals in the United States illegally have been charged in connection with the incident.
The dead illegal immigrants were found in an area of San Antonio. Police took 46 bodies out of the trailer, with others dying despite being taken to local hospitals.
On Tuesday, Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez appeared in federal court on weapons charges.
Police said that the tractor-trailer’s registration led them to a San Antonio house. When San Antonio police went to the house, they found multiple weapons inside, according to The Washington Post.
According to court records, both men admitted they were Mexican citizens who were in the country illegally after overstaying their visas.
No plea was entered Tuesday during a hearing in which the men said they understood the charges against them but said nothing else.
According to a report in the San Antonio Express-News, Homero Zamorano, 45, has also been arrested and was identified as the driver of the tractor-trailer.
“He was very high on meth when he was arrested nearby and had to be taken to the hospital,” the newspaper quoted what it said was a law enforcement officer it did not name as saying.
Reuters reported the man arrested was a U.S.citizen and that he would be formally charged upon his release.
Do we need to make our border secure?
Officials said 39 men and 12 women died, and that about a dozen survivors were in local hospitals. It was unclear how many people may have been in the trailer, although Reuters said some reports indicated it could have been as high as 100 people.
The truck was parked during heat that reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit with no water in the trailer, which also had no air conditioning.
“It’s unspeakable,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, according to Reuters. “It’s a tragedy beyond explanation.”
The incident was the greatest toll of human trafficking deaths in one incident, Craig Larrabee, an acting special agent in charge with the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said.
“The (human smuggling) organizations are getting more violent — they don’t care about the people,” he said, according to the Express-News. “They don’t think of them as people. They think of them as commodities.”
Reuters reported that the illegal immigrants in the truck had recently crossed the border and were waiting to be taken to the place where they would work.
Of those whose country of origin had been determined, 22 were from Mexico, seven were from Guatemala and two were from Honduras, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.
Officials said some of the illegal immigrants in the trailer were covered with a substance identified as steak seasoning as a means to hide their scent, the Express-News said, quoting an official it did not name.
Timothy Tubbs, a retired deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Laredo, said the tactic is not uncommon.
“Dogs are trained for several things. Some are trained to smell money. Some are trained to smell narcotics, weapons, and some dogs are trained to smell human beings,” Tubbs said. “They will put seasoning on them to cover their scent so they can get through the Border Patrol checkpoint.”