Catholic Charities San Antonio Aiding Survivors and Their Families After Texas Migrant Deaths

The June 27 incident is thought to be the largest en masse death of migrants from the southern border in modern history.

Catholic Charities San Antonio aids a migrant following the death of dozens of people abandoned in a truck.
Catholic Charities San Antonio aids a migrant following the death of dozens of people abandoned in a truck. (photo: Courtesy photo / Tara Ford)

Following the discovery of the bodies of more than 50 migrants who died in an abandoned tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, the local Catholic Charities organization is offering support to the 12 surviving migrants and their families. 

Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities San Antonio, told CNA that they are requesting prayers as they offer shelter and basic necessities to the families of the deceased and surviving migrants. Many of the survivors remain hospitalized and “their health is very weak,” Fernandez said. 

The June 27 incident is thought to be the largest en masse death of migrants from the southern border in modern history, but the manner of their deaths is not without precedent. In 2017, San Antonio was the site of a similar incident in which 10 migrants died in a tractor trailer baking in a hot Wal-Mart parking lot. 

“We deal with immigrants every day, thousands of people every week. This is the fourth truck incident where people have lost their lives,” Fernandez lamented.

The migrants were found dead in an abandoned tractor-trailer baking in extreme heat in San Antonio, Texas on the evening of June 27. The official death toll has risen to 53, NPR reported, and the dead include 22 Mexicans, 7 Guatemalans, and 2 Hondurans, with the others not yet having been publicly identified.

Fernandez said Catholic Charities has been in touch with the consulates in the countries of origin of the deceased migrants, and hopes to be able to pay for travel expenses for the surviving migrants and for their families. 

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, and Auxiliary Bishops Michael Boulette and Gary Janak will preside at a memorial Mass for the migrants June 30, the archdiocese told CNA, at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of San Fernando. The liturgy will include a procession from the cathedral’s Main Plaza, a special cross, and candles and flags representing the countries of the deceased as well as the survivors, spokesman Jordan McMorrough said. 

According to experts cited by NPR, it is likely that the people who were in the trailer had crossed the border on foot, before gathering in Laredo to be loaded into a truck. The truck driver as well as three other people involved in smuggling the migrants are reportedly detained. 

Rebecca Solloa, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Laredo, told CNA that the border crossing at Laredo sees the most traffic when other nearby border crossings are overcrowded. She said the migrant shelter that they operate in Laredo has seen increases in the number of migrants needing assistance in the past week, up from around 50 to now as many as 150 a day. 

Solloa said they provide basic necessities to prepare the migrants for travel to their families in other areas of the U.S. interior. Migrants will stay usually between 8-24 hours at their shelter, and the most of the migrants they are serving currently are from Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Venezuela. 

She said their biggest priorities currently are ensuring they have enough food and clothing to give to the migrants, as well as having enough water to provide for them in the sweltering heat. 

Solloa, too, urged prayers for the deceased migrants, many of whom likely had families depending on them in their home countries. She said in her view, the incident is indicative that Title 42 — which during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many migrants being turned away — has caused desperation among migrants, leading them to attempt riskier crossings. 

Although Title 42 remains in place, the Supreme Court ruled June 30 that the Biden administration can end the Trump-era policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols or “Remain in Mexico” policy, which since its 2019 implementation has required asylum seekers to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico as their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) had filed an amicus curiae brief in Biden v. Texas, supporting the administration’s decision to terminate the program. Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, welcomed the ruling in a statement Thursday. 

“Today’s decision recognizes and preserves the executive branch’s ability to reverse untenable, illegal, and immoral policies, regardless of who is in office. The implementation of [Migrant Protection Protocols] has obstructed due process and subjected people to the very dangers that forced them to seek refuge in the United States in the first place. With this ruling, we welcome the end of MPP,” Dorsonville wrote. 

“Ours is both a nation of laws and a beacon of hope for many throughout the world. This should inspire us to work toward just and humane responses to forced migration, not embrace failed policies of the past. As Pope Francis has warned, we cannot limit ourselves to building ‘walls of fear’ and supporting ‘vetoes dictated by nationalist interests’ if we are to achieve meaningful progress in addressing these challenges.”

“While this ruling helps pave the way forward, it does not resolve the ongoing challenges at our country’s southwest border. We remain committed to supporting immigration policies that produce more sustainable solutions, respect the God-given dignity of migrants, and better reflect Christ’s call to welcome the stranger.”

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