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Mexican Consulates all over the United States have been flooded with calls from worried family members hoping their son, daughter, or close family member was not among the victims of the “horrific” human smuggling enterprise that left 10 dead and dozens suffering from heat-related injuries and trauma after being left inside a tractor-trailer without water and proper ventilation.
The victims, a majority of them from different parts of Mexico and some from Guatemala, paid smugglers thousands of dollars to travel north from the Mexican border to San Antonio. As the South Texas heat took its toll, they began to yell for water and pound on the truck to get the driver’s attention, but to no avail.
“Some family members were unaware that their relatives were on the truck, and in some cases it’s the relatives who have been calling the consular network to inquire about their family members – so it’s been a mix,” Ambassador and Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio Reyna Torres Mendívil told reporters during a Wednesday press conference, which was mostly in Spanish.
“We’ve received a large number of calls. Some have been calling the Protection of Mexicans Abroad in Mexico City directly, some have been calling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the United States, and some have been calling other consulates – so it’s a large number.”
For consular officials, calls from worried family members are a grim reminder of the hundreds of migrants that are currently on their own treacherous journey north in search of the “American Dream” and have yet to contact their families to let them know they’ve made it. For the victims of the tractor-trailer, that dream has turned to dust.
“We are in the delicate process of notifying families about the deceased,” Torres said. “Of the  Mexicans that were in the trailer, there are 10 people who are from the state of Aguascalientes and the rest are from the states of Veracruz, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, Michoacán, San Luis Potosí, Jalisco, Nayarit, the State of Mexico, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Mexico City.
“We want those guilty of this tragedy to be brought to justice,” she added.
Torres said that 34 of the 39 victims identified in the “tragic incident” are of Mexican nationality, and that the group included 31 male adults, one female, and two minors. Twenty-seven of them were taken to seven different area hospitals and 13 remain in the hospital as of Wednesday. Two deceased victims remain at the medical examiner’s office. Their country of origin has not been determined. The Consulate would not give more information on ages, names, or medical updates of the survivors.
Torres added that 14 people who were discharged from the hospital are currently being detained by U.S. Marshals as material witnesses, and that all of them have been offered legal advice from the consulate. She would not disclose where they are being held. The San Antonio Express-News reported that agents with Homeland Security Investigations took them to a federal jail.
A statement from the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas put the number of material witnesses in custody at 13. According to that statement those individuals “have been formally charged as material witnesses in U.S. v. James Matthew Bradley. The Court has appointed San Antonio-based attorney Michael McCrum to represent them.”
“Some may be protected by U.S. laws [to get visas or stay in the U.S. longer], so that’s why it’s very important for us that all of them have access to an attorney that can asses their particular situation,” Torres explained. “Some of the family members are being granted humanitarian visas so they can visit their relatives here. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been helping with those procedures. We are also helping relatives in the U.S. come to San Antonio and visit the survivors.”
The driver of the trailer, James Matthew Bradley Jr., told authorities that he was unaware of the human cargo until he took a bathroom break at Walmart and heard banging inside the trailer. Bradley has offered a doubtful account of events to officials, full of inconsistencies and contradictions compared to survivors’ testimonies.
Torres said that she has been in contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) every day since Sunday to ensure proper procedures are enforced.
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“I’ve been guaranteed that attorneys and relatives that are escorted by consular officers can feel confident that they will be able to meet with the relatives in the hospitals without any questioning about their immigration status,” she said, answering a slew of questions from reporters who traveled to San Antonio from all over the state and even from Mexico to get an update on the incident. “Consular officials have been present every step of the way at the seven hospitals.”
Torres said that so far, no one has been issued a deportation order. Reporters asked Torres about a rumor that family member helped one of the patients escape from the hospital before being discharged.
“Sometimes family members give certain information to the media, but as an authority, we need to be careful about the privacy of individuals,” Torres said. She said she has not heard such accounts from those survivors in contact with the consulate.
Torres added that the consulate’s job is to assist survivors and family members of the deceased, and that they are not involved in the smuggling investigation.
“I’ve talked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and I’ve offered help, but the investigation is in their hands and and in those of the Department of Homeland Security,” she said. “We’ve been told by [Foreign Minister] Luis Videgaray to follow the investigation closely. We will collaborate with authorities in any way they consider necessary.”
For the Mexican government, the tragedy has become a platform to remind migrants of the dangers of heading north.
“The Government of Mexico expresses its great regret and reiterates its sincere condolences to all the relatives of those who lost their lives in this unfortunate incident,” Torres said. “This is an opportunity for the government of Mexico to alert all migrants about the high risks that the trafficking networks brings. This terrible incident is an example of the serious consequences of being placed in the hands of traffickers and criminals.”