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The San Antonio migrant tragedy brings grief to families at home

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MEXICO CITY — Days after saying goodbye to their sons and daughters, they began getting the calls: loved ones had arrived in Texas but perished in the back of an abandoned, muggy semi-truck.

In northwest Honduras, Karen Caballero learned that her two sons’ IDs had been found in the San Antonio trailer where the lifeless bodies of dozens of migrants were found Monday in the deadliest smuggling incident on US soil.

The two men, Fernando Jose Redondo Caballero, 20, and Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero, 24, left their home in early June and paid a smuggler to travel north. They were traveling with Margie Tamara Paz, 25, Alejandro Miguel’s girlfriend.

Caballero described her sons as “healthy, hardworking”. She told journalists that they loved football and dancing and left “in search of a better future”.

“To me, they were the cutest boys in my world,” she said through tears.

As coroners continued the arduous process of identifying victims, families across Mexico and Central America learned that loved ones who left in search of a future in the United States were among the 53 dead.

A portrait of those who were in the trailer slowly emerges. The migrants even came from the remote Mayan village of Nahuala, high in the mountains of Guatemala. Some had previously been to the United States. Others had plans to reunite with relatives. Most were young, pursuing simple dreams, such as earning enough money to build a house.

Two of the youngest were 13.

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Pascual Melvin Guachiac Sipac left Sololá, Guatemala 15 days ago to live with his father in Houston. On Wednesday morning, the teen’s mother, Maria Sipac Coj, received a call from a local congressman telling her her son’s body had been found in the trailer.

“He was so excited to be back with his father,” she said, crying.

She still has his last message to her on her cell phone: “Mom, today you’re taking me to the caravan.”

Pascual’s cousin Juan Wilmer Tulul Tepaz, also 13, also died.

Four people – the suspected driver of the trailer and three others allegedly linked to the people-smuggling ring – were charged with their alleged involvement late Wednesday, as more details emerged about those behind the operation, the truck’s route and the people inside bright.

Mexico’s immigration chief, Francisco Garduño Yáñez, said the trailer was from Texas and “did not drive through Mexico, through any of its checkpoints in the country.” He said Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, was caught on security footage driving the vehicle through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint in Encinal, Texas, just before 3 p.m. Monday. The vehicle continued north, Yáñez said, before stopping in San Antonio, where it was spotted on a deserted stretch of road.

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Yáñez said the truck was packed with 67 people. Among the dead were 27 from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador.

US authorities said Zamorano was found hiding in the undergrowth nearby. Yáñez said he tried to pose as a surviving migrant. He was indicted on one charge of alien smuggling resulting in death. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Authorities said investigators found cellphone communications between Zamorano and Christian Martinez, 28, who was charged with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens, resulting in death. Two other men, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna Bilbao, 48, face gun possession charges.

People gathered for a vigil June 29 to commemorate dozens of migrants who died in a sweltering tractor trailer in San Antonio. (Video: Reuters)

The tragedy has resonated throughout Mexico and Central America, a region where growing numbers are trying to flee violence, corruption and poverty to make a living in the United States.

In the small village of San Marcos in the Mexican state of Veracruz Yolanda Olivares Ruiz was left in despair after losing touch with her sons Yovani Valencia Olivares, 16, and Jair Valencia Olivares, 19. The brothers left for the United States last week with their 16-year-old cousin Misael Olivares.

The family last heard from the brothers on Monday morning, when they texted saying they were waiting to be “picked up” from a warehouse in Laredo, Texas, Olivares Ruiz said. They were delighted to have made it to the United States after wading the Rio Grande.

“They were so happy and hopeful that the next morning they would join a relative who was waiting for them in Austin and start work,” Olivares Ruiz said.

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Since that last message, they have not returned the family’s increasingly desperate calls and texts.

“We don’t know anything about her. The uncertainty is killing us,” said Olivares Ruiz. “I have no more tears.”

The brothers, like many others in this city, dreamed of finding a job in the United States and making enough money to build a house and buy a car, she said. They promised to return to Mexico.

“I couldn’t say no to them because there’s nothing for them here,” she said.

Olivares Ruiz sold her house to raise $10,000 for each of her sons to pay the smuggler. She said he helped other relatives travel to the United States earlier this year and appeared to be a kind man.

“I’m sure they were in that trailer,” said Teofilo Antonio Valencia Olivares, father of the two missing boys.

“I just want to know if they’re okay, and if they’re in a hospital bed, tell them, ‘My son, I’m here with you,'” she said.

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The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office said it had made preliminary identifications for 37 of the 53 bodies. The employees combed through personal belongings, documented distinguishing marks and other evidence.

“Sometimes it’s state IDs or an election card from the country of origin,” said district spokesman Tom Peine. “But it’s just a potential identifier. We have yet to verify whether the documents belong to the individual or to someone else.”

The coroner’s office is in coordination with the consulates of El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. The consulates have released a phone number for families to call if they suspect a loved one may be among the victims. Consulates can help locate and contact families once an individual has been identified.

For some families, the news from Texas has brought both hope and fear.

Alejandro López said his cousin José Luis Vásquez Guzmán, 32, survived. But another cousin, Javier Flores López, has still not been reported. The couple traveled from the small village of Cerro Verde in Oaxaca, Mexico, where many residents have tried their luck trying to make it to the United States.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, posted a photo of Guzmán’s ID online on Tuesday, saying he is one of about a dozen migrants who are still alive hospitalized.

“They are dehydrated and are receiving medical attention now,” Ebrard said.

Guzmán’s father died when he was 10 and the family is poor, Alejandro López said. Guzmán briefly served in the military. Both Guzmán and Flores López hoped to come to Ohio, where they had family.

“The options are: become a police officer, join the military,” said Alejandro López, “or go to the United States.”

Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/06/29/texas-migrant-deaths/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_world The San Antonio migrant tragedy brings grief to families at home

Dustin Huang

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