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Texas leaders react to discovery of 46 bodies inside semitruck in San Antonio

If confirmed as a smuggling attempt, it would be among the deadliest such incidents in U.S. history.

SAN ANTONIO — The discovery of at least 62 people believed to be migrants in a sweltering semitruck in southeast San Antonio Monday night – 46 of them found dead – has launched a federal investigation. 

Leaders from across Texas are reacting to the news, many of them calling for action. 

Speaking from the scene Monday night, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the incident "a horrific human tragedy." 

"I would urge you all to think compassionately, and pray for the deceased, the ailing the families," Nirenberg added. "We hope that those responsible for putting these people in such inhumane conditions are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Three people were arrested at the scene, but SAPD officials said it remained to be seen if they were definitively connected to what could have been a smuggling operation. 

Governor Greg Abbott, whose Operation Lone Star mission of fortifying the border is stretching into its second summer, said the deaths resulted from President Joe Biden's "deadly open border policies."

Beto O'Rourke, Abbott's opponent in the 2022 gubernatorial race, called the news "devastation" while calling for making legal immigration more accessible. 

Other Texas Republicans blasted their Democratic colleagues for what they said was inaction when it came to the border. Among them, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Tony Gonzalez. 

"Deadliest border crisis in our nations history. You won’t hear one peep from Democrats. #TX23." -Rep. Gonzalez.

Gustavo García-Siller, head of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, called for unity and prayer in a statement posted online Monday night. 

Statement of Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, regarding the deaths of 46 people from human smuggling or...

Posted by Archdiocese of San Antonio on Monday, June 27, 2022

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who represents the area as part of District 20, used the news to call for an end to Title 42, the ongoing Trump-era protocol that allowed Texas authorities to more quickly expel emigrants while citing COVID-19. 

A federal judge in May ruled for the policy to stay in place. On Monday night, Castro alleged it's helped provide "repeat business for human smugglers."

Other politicians, including State Sen. Jose Menendez and Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, lamented the news and called for accountability. 

"I’m heartbroken at the estimated 46 lives lost, & 16 people including 4 children at hospitals tonight. Seeking asylum & chance at a better life shouldn’t lead to death. Texas has made it near impossible to seek asylum, leading to desperation & unthinkable tragedies like this one." -Sen. Menendez.

"This is an absolute tragedy. 47 are now dead after driving through the Laredo checkpoint. We must bring an end to these senseless deaths and hold those responsible accountable. Let us pray for the families of the deceased. May they Rest In Peace." -Rep. Cuellar. 

On the federal level, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas pledged the government would "continue to take action to disrupt smuggling networks."

Meanwhile, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Domingo García, said both sides of the aisle need to come together for immigration reform. His full statement is below: 

"The politics of President Trump and Governor Abbott to build the wall, deport them all, and Operation Lone Star have all been abysmal failures. Both Democrats and Republicans need to work together on a new bipartisan immigration bill. The reforms must allow us to bring in legal guest workers and open legal avenues for people to come in to help our economy. 

"These steps will prevent these refugees and immigrants from being thrown into the hands of human smugglers and coyotes who are willing to risk the lives of others for a dollar, as well as American employers who want cheap labor that can be exploited. It's time for politicians in Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reforms to address these issues and avoid other tragedies. 

"It's also time for the politicians in Austin to stop using immigrants as political piñatas and start treating them as people in this humanitarian crisis, not a police enforcement issue."

Ashley C. Hoff, United States Attorney Western District of Texas released this statement on Tuesday:

“San Antonio first responders and law enforcement discovered a tragic and disturbing scene yesterday evening on the southwest side of San Antonio. Dozens of immigrants were found dead or incapacitated in and around a tractor trailer with over a dozen others hospitalized in critical condition. All were the apparent victims of human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of human life. The South Texas heat is brutal this time of year, especially given the recent record-high temperatures. We will continue to work with the Homeland Security Investigations and the local responders to identify and bring those who were responsible for this tragedy to justice.” 

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