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Texas sees its biggest immigration tragedy

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One of the top worries of the produce industry is labor, and the industry takes its labor where it can get it—from documented or undocumented workers.

Unauthorized farm workers have formed about 50 percent of the workforce in crop agriculture since the beginning of this century, according to USDA estimates, and that shows no sign of changing.

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Legislative apathy toward immigrant labor reform—a rare but unfortunate instance of bipartisan consensus—shows no current signs of improvement.

The human cost of this neglect became grimly clear on June 27.

That day, Texas saw the biggest immigration tragedy in its history when an abandoned tractor-trailer was found on a highway in San Antonio with some 64 people inside, 50 of them dead from asphyxiation, dehydration, or heat stroke.

Twenty-two of the dead people were Mexicans, 7 from Guatemala, 2 from Honduras, and 19 without nationality information, reported Roberto Velasco Álvarez, head of the North American Unit of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“Our condolences; all those responsible will be brought to justice,” Roberto Velasco said.

Authorities received the first call about the truck shortly before 6 p.m. from a worker in the area, who heard a cry for help and went to investigate, San Antonio police chief William McManus told The Texas Tribune.

“According to a law enforcement official, it appears people were trying to jump out of the tractor-trailer because some of the deceased were found along several blocks,” reported The Texas Tribune. “The tractor-trailer had a refrigeration system, the official said, but it did not appear to be working. Many of the people found inside the vehicle appeared to have been sprinkled with steak seasoning, the official said, in perhaps an attempt to cover up the smell of people as the smugglers were transporting them.”

Authorities said that three people were in custody, although it is not clear whether they are connected to the incident.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, “On July 12 I will have an interview with President Biden in Washington and this issue is central, it is a basic issue to be addressed, we have been raising it, but it is necessary and this is a bitter proof that we must continue to insist on supporting people so that they do not need to leave their villages to go and look for the life on the other side of the border.”

López Obrador says that the tragedy was the result of a lack of controls at the border and inside the United States.

On June 22, Mexican Interior Minister Adán Augusto López Hernández told a group of business leaders in Tijuana that the United States will grant temporary work visas to an additional 300,000 foreign workers, 150,000 of them Mexicans.

López Hernández said that the measure will be announced during López Obrador’s visit to President Biden in July.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.