To Save Lives, Secure the Border

Earlier this week, San Antonio officials reported the deaths of 53 migrants, a total that includes 40 men and 13 women. The senseless deaths are an international tragedy that plays out year after year. Migrant deaths near the border are common as people attempt to cross rugged terrain without adequate water, food or clothing. Before Monday, the worst smuggling-related mass fatality in recent Texas history was in 2003, when 19 people died after being trapped in an unrefrigerated dairy truck for hundreds of miles. The International Organization for Migration calculated that at least 650 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021.

In the latest heartbreaking incident, the migrants were trapped in a tractor-trailer; 46 were dead at the scene, and another five expired from heat exhaustion and dehydration, gruesome ways to die, at local hospitals. Five children were among the dead that included 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans. Officials are working to identify the nationalities of the other victims.

The list of parties responsible for these needless deaths is long, and includes at its top the United States President, Joe Biden. Texas Governor Gregg Abbott tweeted, “These deaths are on Biden. They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also was highly critical of the Biden administration. Obrador placed the culpability on the U.S. border and interior failures which, he said, encourage trafficking. But Biden was quick to deflect blame. He called Abbott’s remarks “shameful” grandstanding, while he denounced “exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit.” Incredulously, the White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said after the incident that “the border is closed.”

Biden has company on the most culpable list. Among them are Vice President Kamala Harris who has steadfastly refused to travel to the border even though the president specifically gave her that responsibility, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. On social media, Mayorkas promised that he’ll “take action to disrupt smuggling networks.” But Mayorkas’ inaction on border security is the very reason smugglers have thrived under his period as DHS secretary that has seen more than 1 million aliens, exclusive of got-aways, released into the interior.

The only smattering of good news is that four perpetrators, including Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, are in federal custody. Documents filed on June 28 confirmed that police went to a San Antonio address listed on the tractor-trailer’s registration and stopped a Ford pickup truck that was leaving the property. Police arrested both D’Lunas and charged them with illegal possession of multiple firearms. Both are Mexican citizens in the country illegally after overstaying their tourist visas. Visa overstays are another failure of the government. Department of Homeland Security statistics indicate that in 2020, there were 684,500 visa overstays, up about 1 percent from 2019.

The U.S. border with Mexico has essentially been open, albeit to different degrees, for decades. When the White House and Congress get serious about securing America’s Southwest border, and enforcing the immigration laws that provide citizens with a safe interior, then the smuggling business will slowly die out. The most humane, most life-saving border policy is one that rigorously secures the border.