The driver responsible for smuggling migrants across Texas, 10 of whom died in July 2017 of heat exposure and asphyxiation in the back of a tractor-trailer, was sentenced Friday to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole.
James Matthew Bradley Jr., 61, pleaded guilty in October 2017 to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death and to one count of transporting aliens resulting in death, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
“Smuggling illegal aliens into this country disregards both our laws and their safety,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “The defendant’s actions in this case led to the agonizing deaths of 10 people. This case is a reminder of why the Trump administration and this Department of Justice have renewed our commitment to enforcing our criminal immigration laws and why we are going to continue to work to secure our borders.”
Bradley, a truck driver from Louisville, Kentucky, drove a tractor-trailer full of migrants from Laredo to San Antonio. The San Antonio Police Department discovered the trailer on July 23 in a Walmart parking lot in Southwest San Antonio after receiving a tip from an employee.
The migrants inside the tractor-trailer paid smugglers thousands of dollars to travel north from the Mexican border towards San Antonio. However, the tractor-trailer’s air-conditioning unit did not function during the drive from Laredo. The migrants were left inside without proper ventilation, food, water, or a way out of the trailer.
Eight of the migrants were found dead at the scene, and two others died later in local hospitals as a result of their injuries. Nine of the deceased travelled from Mexico with another originally coming from Guatemala.
Approximately 30 other migrants suffered from heat-related injuries and trauma.
San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who visited the scene in July, told the Rivard Report on Friday that he’s “satisfied” with the sentence, but that the decision will not deter similar actions in the future because the current immigration system created the industry that led to the migrant’s deaths.
“If Congress introduced an immigration reform bill, it would mean that those who are illegally smuggling individuals would no longer have an industry,” Saldaña said. “Unfortunately Congress hasn’t acted, and unfortunately we have yet to see any immigration reform.”
Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra sentenced Bradley, who admitted in his plea that he transported the migrants for financial gain, with the intention of furthering their illegal entry into the country, and with reckless disregard that they entered the county illegally, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“I am gratified that the court imposed an appropriate punishment for this horrific crime,” said U.S. Attorney John F. Bash, who prosecuted the case alongside Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christina Playton and Matthew Lathrop. “Through this prosecution, we have sent two unmistakable messages: first, that alien smuggling is a dangerous offense with real victims; and second, that DOJ will seek justice for all victims of crime, no matter their legal status.”