US Immigration Policy Is to Blame for the Horrific Mass Death in San Antonio

One hundred human beings were trapped in an 18 wheeler in Texas’s 100-degree heat without water or air conditioning. Fifty of them have died. Sixteen more people were taken to a hospital — including four children. It was Monday in San Antonio. This is the worst of these tragedies in recent times, but it’s not the first. In Victoria, Texas, 19 migrants were killed in 18-wheelers in 2003. In 2017, there were 10 migrants found dead in 18-wheelers — also in San Antonio.

Summer is the season of most state-produced violence. Anyone who has ever done decarceration work knows that summer is the most difficult time of year for heavily policed or imprisoned communities. It is also the time when most migration-related deaths take place.

Yesterday, a migrant who was trying to reach a ranch in Texas for water was found dead in Kinney County, Texas, two hours from San Antonio. The Sheriff’s Office report states: “It’s the 5th dead illegal alien so far this year in the County.” The disregard for migrant lives has never been clearer.

According to the news, dehydration and heat stroke were the main causes for death in San Antonio. Though that’s certainly what autopsies will reveal, to blame the heat or the smugglers alone would be to dishonor the human beings whose lives have been robbed by local, state and federal immigration policy. Every single migration-related death can be prevented, regardless of whether it is related to border crossings or detention.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took to Twitter Monday to condemn President Biden for the deaths. The way that migrant lives become political pawns deprives people of basic dignity and respect, even death. As an immigrant organizer, who lived in Texas for 20+ years, I can tell what we see from the ground. One of these men is actively trying kill us, the other is leaving our bodies.

Operation Lone Star was a political operation worth $4 billion that Governor Abbott launched in March last year. It involved law enforcement officers and national guard members from across the state (and some other states) to flood border communities with migrants and arrest them on misdemeanor theft charges. They were then sent to state prisons for up one year. Over 3,000 people have been charged and imprisonedSince its inception, Operation Lone Star has been supported by Operation Lone Star. This is Abbott’s attempt to create his own immigration enforcement and deterrence program.

We in Texas have been asking the White House, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to stop enabling Operation Lone Star and to open an investigation. On both fronts, there’s only been inaction — inaction whose end result, predictably, is premature death.

The dialogue on immigration policy in America is often dominated by partisan narratives that feature a villain and a hero. But these deaths remind me of James Baldwin’s powerful statement:

I know what the world did to my brother and how he survived. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it … it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence that constitutes the crime.

These violence is the responsibility of those in power. They are responsible for the devastation, regardless of whether or not their actions are considered criminal by the legal system.

Last week, Democrats were elected to Congress approved an amendmentTo the DHS budget bill, that would extend the racist Title 42 policy that prohibits people from seeking asylum on the border. President Biden failed in his first term to end the policy, even though he knew that Stephen Miller had put it in place to end migration.

Biden’s hesitation enabled Governor Abbott and other Republicans to politicize the issue creating the conditions for this type of tragedy to take place. Title 42 and other policies that block safer routes will allow migrants to continue to enter the U.S. via pathways such as the one that led to mass death in San Antonio yesterday.

Texas is a state that promotes violence and death as a political system. Our state mass-produces and spreads death from the Uvalde tragedy to the attacks on transgender youth to the ban on reproductive rights.

While the federal government publicly expresses outrage and disdain towards Texas and the wider South, it is actually an accomplice in the violence that robbed migrants their lives in San Antonio this past week.

The embrace of policies that orient toward care and health — rather than exclusion and violence — could have prevented yesterday’s mass deaths. Even though these lives were taken by death-making policies they were still human beings. The survivors are also important.

Those who died are human beings with loved ones — with strength, with hope, with faith, with stories that should matter to all of us. Their search for a more bearable existence, for survival, to find resources, and for sustenance was met by death, rather than welcoming and caring.

As we learn their names, may they weigh heavy on our tongues, and may no one dare say they did not die in vain — they did. This is the root reason people need to face: Without policies that promote life-sustaining migration, the state will continue to sanction death.

Texas will continue to do everything it can to keep each other safe, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

People from other countries should be aware. The policies and technologies that facilitate death in Texas will not remain within our state borders, and organizing to undo Biden’s deadly indifference and Abbott’s active assaults is the only way forward.