Who's guilty of murder in San Antonio?

The political leaders and law enforcement officials giving pious lectures about trafficking are responsible for policies that lead to misery and suffering, writes Danny Katch.

The aftermath of a murder scene in San Antonio, TexasThe aftermath of a murder scene in San Antonio, Texas

A GRISLY murder took place last weekend in Texas.

Thirty-nine people were found packed inside the boiling-hot container of a tractor-trailer. Eight of them were already dead--the rest were taken to hospitals, where two more died, and others are still fighting for their lives.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters that even for those who survive, "a lot of them are going to have some irreversible brain damage."

Police arrested the driver of the truck, and Richard Durbin, U.S. Attorney for Texas's Western District, issued a statement that authorities would be casting a wider net to go after the "ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of their fragile cargo. The South Texas heat is punishing this time of year."

"These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters," said Durbin. "Imagine their suffering, trapped in a stifling trailer in 100-plus degree heat. The driver is in custody and will be charged. We will work with the Homeland Security Investigations and the local responders to identify those who were responsible for this tragedy."

The perpetrators of this atrocity do need to be brought to justice. Bradley's truck was a modern-day slave ship, sitting in a Walmart parking lot, with human beings gruesomely packed in the hold amidst the vomit and piss and dead bodies.

But if we want to pursue all of the guilty parties, we need to take a much wider view than Homeland Security Investigations will ever be willing to take.

Firstly, what happened in San Antonio was not an isolated incident. Human trafficking inside trucks is on the rise in Texas.

"Two weeks ago," the Washington Post reports, "Houston police discovered 12 immigrants, including a girl, who had been locked for hours inside a sweltering box truck in a parking lot, banging for someone to rescue them. Three people were arrested. A Harris County prosecutor said the migrants were at imminent risk of death."

"Earlier this month," adds Reuters, "72 people from Latin America were found in a trailer in Laredo. In June, 44 people were found in the back of a vehicle in the same Texas city, which lies directly across the Rio Grande from Mexico."

Of course, the vast majority of people who die trying to enter the U.S. perish on foot in the desert. "From October 2000 through September 2016," reports the New York Times, "the Border Patrol documented 6,023 deaths in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas."

That death toll is more than twice as high as the September 11 terrorist attacks, and 50 times higher than the number of murders committed by immigrants who were once in federal custody--which Donald Trump has created an entire new propaganda agency to publicize.

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TO UNDERSTAND how those 39 people ended up in the back of Bradley's truck, the first question to answer is why they didn't "play by the rules" and try to enter the U.S. legally.

What's rarely mentioned by political leaders who talk about how immigrants should wait their turn "at the back of the line" is that for many people in countries like Mexico, that line is over 20 years long.

Mexican children and siblings of U.S. citizens trying to get a family-sponsored visa have been waiting since the mid-1990s. During that time, they've seen their country overwhelmed, and in many places destroyed, by the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the war on drugs--both inflicted on Mexico by the very country that refuses to legally accept them.

It's a combination guaranteed to lead people to take their chances on emigrating without a visa.

And ever since the U.S. government started to more aggressively police the border during the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton, migrants have been increasingly pushed away from entering the U.S. through cities like San Diego and El Paso and forced to attempt dangerous crossings through inhospitable deserts. As Reece Jones wrote last year for the Guardian:

According to the first National Border Patrol Strategy document, released in 1994, that was the goal: "The prediction is that with traditional entry and smuggling routes disrupted, illegal traffic will be deterred, or forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing and more suited for enforcement." Put another way, the official border patrol strategy was to create conditions that would cause more migrants to die in hostile terrain, in order to deter other migrants from making the trip.

It seems that smugglers aren't the only ones who are "ruthless" and "indifferent," to use the words of U.S. Attorney Durbin.

Nor are the human trafficking networks the only organizations trying to profit off of migrants' helpless desperation.

Private prison corporations like GEO Group and CoreCivic Inc. (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) have built billion-dollar empires as beneficiaries of the government's mass immigrant incarceration policy that is nonsensical on its own terms: Based on the myth that immigrants drain resources from the economy, immigration authorizes snatch people away from productive jobs and throw them into detention centers, where they become wards of the state.

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LAST WEEKEND'S deaths were a horrific reminder of another Texas crime in 2003, when 19 migrants baked to death inside the truck of Tyrone Williams--who cruelly resisted the cries coming from the back of his truck to turn on the refrigeration.

Williams' companion Fatima Holloway testified in court that at one point, they heard passengers screaming, "El niño, el niño!" "Williams asked Holloway what the words meant," reported the Los Angeles Times. "She said she thought it had something to do with the weather. They would later learn that a 5-year-old boy was dying in the trailer."

One of the immigration agents assigned to that case was Tomas Homan, the current acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Homan issued the following statement on Sunday:

By any standard, the horrific crime uncovered last night ranks as a stark reminder of why human smuggling networks must be pursued, caught and punished. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations works year-round to identify, dismantle, and disrupt the transnational criminal networks that smuggle people into and throughout the United States. These networks have repeatedly shown a reckless disregard for those they smuggle, as last night's case demonstrates. I personally worked on a tragic tractor trailer case in Victoria, Texas in 2003 in which 19 people were killed as a result of the smugglers' total indifference to the safety of those smuggled and to the law.

The men and women of ICE are proud to stand alongside our law enforcement partners, including locally and at the U.S. Department of Justice, to combat these smuggling networks and protect the public and those who would fall victim to their dangerous practices that focus solely on their illicit profits. So long as I lead ICE, there will be an unwavering commitment to use law enforcement assets to put an end to these practices.

Bullshit.

Maybe Homan was genuinely affected by the horrors he saw inside Tyrone Williams truck in 2003, but this is the same person who just last month declared that he wanted all undocumented immigrants to be "looking over their shoulder" in fear that one of his agents might be coming to snatch them.

Everything that ICE does drives migrants further underground and into the trucks of smugglers like Bradley and Williams. Even as Homan was speaking out on supposed behalf of the victims, a San Antonio police spokesperson said that the survivors were expected to be released from the hospital into ICE custody for deportation procedures.

To borrow a slogan from the movement against police killings, the whole damn system is guilty as hell.