After living through the deadliest human smuggling case in the United States, some of the remaining 14 migrant survivors are now receiving humanitarian support from San Antonio’s Catholic Charities.

With more survivors to come in the following days, other nonprofit organizations are joining forces with Catholic Charities in helping provide medical care, counseling, legal services and other support.

Permission to release survivors of the June 27 incident to Catholic Charities’ care was granted by Homeland Security Investigations, allowing them to receive housing, food, clothing and more, once they are released from medical care. 

It is unclear how long they will be in the nonprofit’s care. For now, the goal is to get the survivors to the cities where their hosts reside. The migrants’ legal status also remains unclear, explained Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities. 

Homeland Security did not respond to questions regarding the survivors’ future in the United States. Meanwhile, Fernandez said most were headed to Houston. 

The first survivor released into Catholic Charities’ care Thursday night tested positive for COVID-19, so he is staying in a hotel for several days temporarily. Once he is cleared for travel, he will be flown to San Francisco. 

When Fernandez first met him at a local hospital, he gave the migrant his phone to allow him to make a call. The survivor called his wife in Guatemala. 

“First thing that he said to her was like, I love you, I love the kids,” said Fernandez. “Then right after that, he was asking her to pray for the 53 people who died. Just to hear that. … Wow, their faith is big.”

Yesterday, a hospitalized female survivor who had just opened her eyes accepted when Fernandez asked if they could pray together, he said. 

“We are just helping them as much as we can with everything and all the programs that Catholic Charities have,” said Fernandez. 

A second female survivor who was placed in the nonprofit’s care Friday still has a brother in the intensive care unit. She is expected to remain under their care until more is known about her brother’s condition. 

As families begin to arrive in San Antonio to look for relatives who might have been passengers on the 18-wheeler, Catholic Charities and other area nonprofits, including American Gateways, an immigration legal services provider, are assisting in offering compassion and support. 

Foreign consulates are also assisting families and providing wraparound services. 

When they expect a victim will be placed under their care for several days, Catholic Charities offers counseling and legal services to them.

“They’re doing tremendous work,” said Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of Catholic Charities’ humanitarian assistance. ”The federal government entrusted them to be sure that migrants, in this situation, were helped.” 

Recently, García-Siller has been sharing messages of ‘hope,’ as the community recently experienced the loss of 19 students and two teachers in the Uvalde school shooting, the second-deadliest school shooting on record.

“It’s [hope is] tainted profoundly, with pain, with sorrow, with loss, with also frustration, because immigrants have been used for personal gains, campaigns, over the last four years. And there has not been … comprehensive immigration reform and many people are suffering.”

García-Siller said on Friday he visited a survivor at a local hospital, who told him he had family members in the United States, similar to many migrants trying to make their way to family and friends. 

“People are coming because [of a] brighter future, because the U.S., we are a first-world country. We have the resources, we are kind of the world country,” he said. 

“These people, they come in desperation because in their countries of origin is organized crime, is abuse, a horrible life. So they come to live … ready to serve and to do whatever they can.”

This is not the first time Catholic Charities has provided humanitarian services to human smuggling victims. The organization accepted several smuggling survivors in 2017 who were found in an abandoned 18-wheeler at a Walmart parking lot in Southwest San Antonio. Eight people were found dead in the truck and two people died later.

“There have been two other incidents [in which] no one died, and we’ve been able to help as much as we could,” said Fernandez. 

The way the organization cares for other migrants is different. When it comes to trauma survivors, Fernandez said they spend more time helping them digest what they went through. 

Some migrants may have been traveling for several months or even up to a year. For example, the first survivor received into Catholic Charities’ care, Fernandez said, had been traveling from Guatemala to Mexico for one month. Everything was going well until he got to Laredo. 

“The last couple of weeks for this person were not really good. The trauma this person has,” said Fernandez, “it has to be in their time.”

Some may not trust people just yet, such as attorneys or counselors, he added. 

“The most important thing for me are prayers. We need people to pray for the people who are in the hospitals,” Fernandez said, as many remain in the ICU. 

Thousands of migrants travel through San Antonio every week. Fernandez said they house people every night and recently, they have had hundreds every night.

“Last night, we had 268 people here,” Fernandez said Friday.

“Who is responsible for this situation? We are responsible, because they are coming to the United States and they have the right to enter,” said García-Siller.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. A 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, her work has been recognized by the Texas Managing Editors. She previously worked...