Congress must craft immigration reform that respects, protects human life

The human smuggling tragedy last month is more evidence that of the need for legal pathways to help people fleeing desperate and dangerous situations.

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Relatives of Jair, Yovani and Misael, three young migrants who died in a trailer in San Antonio, Texas, on June 27, attend their funeral procession, in San Marcos Atexquilapan, Veracruz State, Mexico, on July 14.

Relatives of Jair, Yovani and Misael, three young migrants who died in a trailer in San Antonio, Texas, on June 27, attend their funeral procession, in San Marcos Atexquilapan, Veracruz State, Mexico, on July 14.

Photo by Victoria Razo/AFP

The deadly human smuggling attempt that left 53 people dead in the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, last month should revive efforts in Congress to review outdated border policies and enact reforms to reduce future inhumane and deadly migration attempts.

Some Republicans constantly complain about supposed “open border” policies. But the dead — ranging in age from 13 to 55 — are evidence that open borders are not the problem.

A group of more than 60 people each paid between $6,000 to $9,000 to take a dim chance to reach the U.S. inside a sweltering trailer with no water, no air conditioning and no ventilation. The few that made it out are now known for surviving one of the deadliest human smuggling incidents in U.S. history.

Unfortunately, those are the risks people take when policies such as “Remain in Mexico” and Title 42 — a public health order, enacted because of the pandemic, that turns away migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border — remain in place.

Editorial

Editorial

Congress should help extend, not block, legal pathways to people fleeing desperate and dangerous situations.

Existing Trump-era policies

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Biden administration has the power to rescind the “Remain in Mexico” program that forced asylum seekers at the southwestern border to wait in Mexico while their claims were decided.

Yet thousands of asylum seekers are still in Mexico, living in environments where they are susceptible to kidnapping, extortion and sexual assault. The Biden administration says it needs to wait several weeks to officially end the program, while the court’s decision is communicated to lower courts.

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Meanwhile, Title 42 expulsions continue, even though the policy was put in place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, before tests and vaccines were easily accessible. More than 78% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, while 66% of the population are considered fully vaccinated.

These rules of expulsions are outdated and can easily lead to preventable tragedy when desperate migrants risk their lives to try and enter the U.S.

In search for better life

Four people have now been charged in the deadly smuggling incident.

A cry for help led a worker at a nearby building to the trailer, where 48 people were dead at the scene; the survivors were suffering from heat stroke and hot to the touch. Five more people later died at the hospital.

The medical examiner identified the dead; 26 people were from Mexico, 21 from Guatemala and six from Honduras.

The Texas Tribune reported on some of the victims, including Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero, 23; Margie Tamara Paz Grajeda, 24; and Fernando José Redondo Caballero, 18, all of Las Vegas, Honduras.

Alejandro Miguel and Margie Tamara thought his studies in marketing and hers in economics would set them up for economic stability. But both were unsuccessful in the job hunt. So when Alejandro Miguel later heard from a relative in the U.S. who offered to pay for him and his little brother, Fernando José, to make the migration trip, they both said yes and brought along Margie Tamara.

Alejandro Miguel was creative, friendly and known for being a good dancer. Fernando José admired his big brother.

“I thought things were going to go well,” said Karen Caballero, the brothers’ mother. “Who was a little afraid was Alejandro Miguel. He said, ‘Mom, if something happens to us.’ And I told him, ‘Nothing is going to happen, nothing is going to happen. You are not the first nor will you be the last human being to travel to the United States.’”

Avoiding another tragedy

The Department of Homeland Security is looking into the potential applicability of the T and U visas for the survivors, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said in a statement. The visas provide victims of human trafficking with protection from deportation and help law enforcement prosecute those responsible.

DHS is also working with the governments of the victims’ countries of origin to return the bodies and support the affected families.

But the Biden administration should move swiftly to end the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The Supreme Court’s decision to end the policy is not enough.

Congress has a long list of priorities. But the smuggling tragedy is yet more evidence that our country must include among those priorities immigration reform that respects and protects life.

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