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“A lot of bad things happened here”: the migrant smuggling red zone where the 51-year-old from San Antonio died

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Fabiola and Alondra Barbosa pray before a Virgin of Guadalupe nailed to a dirt shoulder. The two sisters, aged 34 and 36, have brought a picture of the patron saints of Mexicans to commemorate the 51 migrants found dead this Tuesday in an abandoned trailer with no water and no air on a lost highway on the outskirts of San Anthony, Texas. “We identify with them because we also came here to look for a better life,” says the little sister. A day later, the site of the tragedy turns into an improvised altar of crosses and candles, which is approached by residents of the area, a little over two hours from the border.

Most of them are also migrants, like the Barbosa sisters, who came to the southern United States with a bit more luck but are aware of the ordeal of crossing undocumented. In fact, two of his relatives managed to drop by in another trailer on a nearby highway a month ago. “This has been a transit zone for many years because the train runs through here,” explains the older sister, pointing to the rails that are almost hidden in the bushes.

The train runs parallel to the road the trailer appeared on, a narrow, poorly paved lane surrounded by scrub and fallow land. Decades ago, before the construction of the freeway that takes the bypass here, it was one of the main northbound routes through Texas. Today it is an almost forgotten street. On the shoulders, where the Virgin of Guadalupe and the crosses are placed, remains of rubbish pile up and are burned.

But the freight train continues to run on a route that runs from the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, one of the drug mafia hotspots, to Texas. The San Antonio railroad track is one of the many forks of La Bestia or El Devoramigrantes, the explicit nicknames of the train that comes from Mexico’s southern border and was one of the Mafia’s main routes a decade ago.

New types of organized crime include trailers. Truck accidents have been frequent on Mexican soil in recent years, showing that the load they are carrying consists of dozens of overcrowded migrants. Not so much on US soil. Although in 2003 another 19 people died in a trailer in Victoria, another Texas city on the Gulf Coast.

Tuesday is the biggest tragedy for now. When the police opened the doors of the trailer, they found 87 migrants inside the truck, according to preliminary figures. Most Mexicans and Central Americans. The 16 survivors are being treated at nearby hospitals. The police have already arrested three suspects. Its specific involvement in the events is not yet known, or why the truck was abandoned in this lost territory.

“It got worse”

The life closest to the street is a commercial area with workshops specializing in truck parts. Leonardo Rocamontes is 74 years old and has been running one of the workshops for more than 50 years. Sitting in his office, among apple-sized nuts and other greasy irons, he explains the various stages of the phenomenon: “When I arrived, it was all a silent forest. But a lot of bad things have happened here in recent years.” The abandonment of the highway, with no lights or hardly any pavement, attracted prostitution, another industry controlled by organized crime. His grandson found a woman’s body in the bushes more than 10 years ago.

It was the time when the bloodthirsty Zetas from Mexico’s border states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas aboard La Bestia dominated the migrant flows up the east coast. “They got off here because the train is slowing down, almost around a bend, because there’s an intersection in front of us,” Leonardo recalls. Exhausted bodies turned up in his workshop, asking to use a phone. Sometimes cars came to pick them up, and depending on the chief of mechanics, they were taken to Houston or further afield to New Carolina to work on ranches. For a few years the flow has decreased, but in the last few months it has happened again.

“It got worse. Before, you didn’t look at it that closely because it was smaller amounts. Now that it’s more difficult to cross, more people gather and it’s more noticeable,” he explains in Spanish, which his grandparents told him , Mexicans from Coahuila. Two weeks ago a group of over 10 people arrived asking if they could sleep in one of his trucks. And at night they washed with the hose from the workshop. “They left very grateful. “

The numbers are consistent with statements made by the head of the Texas workshop. May broke the record for undocumented immigrants entering the country with more than 239,000. And Texas, with its more than 1,000-kilometer border with Mexico, almost half of the entire border area, is one of the hotspots. The governments of Joe Biden and Andrés Manuel López Obrador have been negotiating a common agenda to tackle the problem for months.

Migration is also a key concern for the Democratic Party, which is under siege ahead of November’s general election from the Republican side, which is using the growth of the migration phenomenon as a hammer to feed its most conservative voters. Republican Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, who caused a border collapse two months ago with extraordinary inspections of trucks coming in from Mexico, said, “These dead are Bidens.”

In addition to prayers to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Barbosa sisters also have a message for politicians who are stoking the spirit of fear of migrants. The youngest works in a taqueria and the oldest in cleaning houses. “These are the jobs for us when we have no papers. The ones nobody wants to do and for the ones who also pay us less because they are illegal,” explains the elder, giving another example. His two brothers-in-law, who hid in another truck a month ago, are now working as bricklayers “on a daily wage, on the black and without insurance”.

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Source elpais.com

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