Lawmakers urge Biden admin to spare San Antonio survivors from possible detention and deportation

Lawmakers urge Biden admin to spare San Antonio survivors from possible detention and deportation

Nearly two dozen members of the U.S. House have added their voices to a recent call urging the Biden administration to protect the survivors of the horrific San Antonio tragedy last month, which resulted in the deaths of 53 people and hospitalized at least 16 others. San Antonio Rep. Joaquin Castro leads 22 colleagues in asking the survivors be spared from deportation and detention, and be allowed to quickly access certain humanitarian visas.

“As the remaining survivors focus on their recovery at San Antonio hospitals, they should not be worried about their future in the United States,” lawmakers tell Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. 

RELATED STORY: San Antonio survivors must be allowed to apply for certain visas available to victims, groups say 

Lawmakers note in their letter to Mayorkas that survivors “suffered extreme heat, potentially up to 130 degrees, and some of the survivors may end up with long-term health issues. According to the San Antonio Fire Department chief, none of the 16 migrants found alive were able to climb out of the tractor trailer without assistance.” Initial reporting described how the bodies of the dead were desecrated by smugglers, while survivors were left to die.

“We also urge the Department to expedite the applications of survivors who apply for humanitarian based visas,” lawmakers continue in their letter. “These visas are for individuals facing oppression, disasters, or other urgent circumstances, such as criminal activity, human trafficking, or individuals facing persecution while outside the United States.”

More than 100 organizations had in recent days urged the administration to shield survivors and allow them to apply for relief, noting that in past mass casualty events, “victims and witnesses have ended up detained and deported within hours after being released from the hospital.”

“For example, in August 2021, a survivor of a deadly car crash which killed 10 people in Encino, Texas, was deported just three days after the crash, while still wearing clothes streaked with blood,” organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Human Rights First, Refugees International, and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee said.

”Additionally, we ask that you provide humanitarian parole to allow the families of the victims to visit the survivors and collect the bodies of the dead,” lawmakers continued. “It is only right that our government provides an avenue for the family members that can and want to come to the United States to find, locate, bury, or bring home their loved ones.” 

Spanish-language outlet Plaza Pública reported that one family traveled hours on bus from their village to Guatemala’s capital to identify their 14-year-old son’s body through a photograph. Juan Wilmer Tulul Tepaz’s cousin, 13-year-old Pascual Melvin Guachiac Sipac, also died. At least two other children died in the tragedy.

“The medical examiner’s office is coordinating with the consulates of El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras,” The Washington Post reported at the end of June. “The consulates have publicized a phone number for families to call if they suspect a loved one might be among the victims. The consulates can help find and contact families once an individual is identified.” Since then, most of the deceased have been identified. 

Four people have been charged in the incident, “the single deadliest migrant smuggling case in U.S. history, according to a Homeland Security official,” The Texas Tribune reported. It’s unclear so far if any survivors will be called as part of the criminal case.

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