SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- The "completely
senseless deaths" of 10 people who died of heat exhaustion and
suffocation they suffered from being held in a tractor-trailer "is an
incomprehensible tragedy," said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San
"There are no words to
convey the sadness, despair and, yes, even anger we feel today," he said
in a statement released late July 23.
Earlier in the day, San Antonio law
enforcement officials found eight bodies inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler sitting in
the parking lot of a Walmart. The eight people who died were among 39 people packed in the trailer and suffering from extreme
dehydration and heatstroke. At least 20 others rescued from the truck were in
critical condition and transported to the hospital. Two later died, and by July 24 the death toll was at least 10.
In a July 24 statement, the
chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration said
the nation's Catholic bishops joined their voices in mourning the loss of life
and condemning the treatment of migrants, many of whom were from Mexico and
Guatemala, in a suspected human trafficking operation.
"The loss of lives is
tragic and avoidable. We condemn this terrible human exploitation that occurred
and continues to happen in our country," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of
"In a moment such as this,
we reflect upon the words of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, 'The defense of
human beings knows no barriers: We are all united wanting to ensure a dignified
life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own
land,'" Bishop Vasquez said.
San Antonio Police Chief William
McManus called it "a horrific tragedy" and said it was being looked
at as "a human trafficking crime." AP reported that James Matthew
Bradley, 60, of Clearwater, Florida, believed to be the driver of the
tractor-trailer, was a suspect in the case and had been arrested on charges of
San Antonio is about 150 miles from
the U.S.-Mexico border. The temperature in the Texas city July 23 was 101 degrees all
day and well into late evening. The human cargo in the tractor-trailer was discovered
after someone left the truck and asked a Walmart worker for water, AP said.
In his statement, Archbishop Garcia-Siller
said the community was praying for the recovery of the adults and children who
were hospitalized. AP said that at least four of the survivors were between the
ages of 10 and 17.
"Catholic Charities of the
Archdiocese of San Antonio has already reached out to our mayor and promised to
offer whatever assistance is needed. We will do anything possible for these
brothers and sisters and their families," he said.
Archbishop Garcia-Siller said the
tragedy was "a
clarion call" for the nation to make immigration reform a priority.
"Everyone -- the churches,
law enforcement, state and national elected officials, civic organizations,
charitable groups -- has to prioritize the immigration issue and truly work
together in new ways which have eluded us in the past for common sense
solutions. No more delays! No more victims!" he said.
He recalled that when 19 people
died in similar circumstances in a locked trailer in nearby Victoria in 2003, "the
nation was stunned, and people of good will vowed to work diligently to ensure
that something such as this would never happen again."
enforcement has reported an upsurge in these types of human smuggling and
trafficking operations at the border in recent months," Archbishop
Such incidents involve "increasingly
desperate individuals seeking safety and a better life for their families
placing their well-being and indeed their lives in the hands of reprehensible,
callous smugglers and traffickers," he said.
"We pray for these victims
and all victims of human smuggling and trafficking; that this monstrous form of
modern slavery will come to a quick and final end," the archbishop added.
"God cries seeing this reality and many other situations such as this
across our country and around the world."
In a separate statement, the
Austin-based Texas Catholic Conference, which is the public policy arm of the
state's Catholic bishops, joined Archbishop Garcia-Siller in
mourning the migrants' deaths and praying for the survivors.