Deaths in Texas Show Risks People Take to Seek Better Lives

26 July, 2017

The recent deaths of 10 individuals in Texas again brought attention to people risking their lives in search of a better future.

U.S. officials say those who died were part of a group who paid smugglers to help them get into the United States illegally. They were being transported in the back of a tractor-trailer truck.

Police discovered eight bodies inside the truck's trailer early Sunday outside a Walmart store in San Antonio. Two more victims died after being taken to the hospital. Police said 39 people were inside the truck when rescuers arrived. But survivors said up to 200 people may have been inside during the trip.

The area reportedly had temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius. Rescuers said victims suffered from limited air, lack of water and heatstroke.

James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida, left, arrives at the federal courthouse for a hearing, July 24, 2017, in San Antonio. Bradley was arrested in connection with the deaths of multiple people packed into a broiling tractor-trailer. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida, left, arrives at the federal courthouse for a hearing, July 24, 2017, in San Antonio. Bradley was arrested in connection with the deaths of multiple people packed into a broiling tractor-trailer. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Officials said all those found inside were undocumented immigrants, most of them Mexican nationals. Their ages ranged from 15 to about 30 years old.

Human smuggling is a big business

Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera is a residential fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. She has studied human smuggling along the southern U.S. border for many years. She says the tragedy in Texas is an example of how organized smuggling has turned into a big business.

"This has become a multi-million dollar industry. From the countries of origin, several people are participating now in a much more organized way - including transnational criminal organizations that charge people to cross the river or to pass through the territories that are controlled by them."

She added that despite the high cost of smuggling and great risks to their lives, many people are still finding ways to get to the U.S.

"It seems to me that people are trying to find different ways to get to the United States because they know that when they get to the United States, employers are providing them with a job."

Correa-Cabrera noted that if U.S. policies to protect borders and limit immigration get stronger, people will just seek out new ways to get around the laws. She said this is likely to only strengthen criminal groups operating on the other side of the border.

Global migration problem

Worldwide, the number of migrants reached 244 million in 2015, according to the latest United Nations report. Nearly two-thirds of all international migrants live in Europe (76 million) or Asia (75 million). North America hosted the third largest number (54 million), followed by Africa (21 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (9 million) and Oceania (8 million).

In 2015, mass graves found in Thailand and Malaysia led to the discovery of a large human trafficking operation involving mostly Rohingya migrants. Smugglers kept the migrants in camps under poor conditions before they were transported to other parts of Asia. Last week in Thailand, dozens of people – including 21 government officials – were convicted in the trafficking case.

One of the world's biggest migrations involves people fleeing Africa to go to Europe. Millions also have fled fighting in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conflicts have forced many families to make the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea. In 2016, the number of deaths in the sea reached an all-time high of 5,000, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

People who fled war and persecution from their homeland are considered refugees. But most of the people who arrived in Europe are considered "economic migrants." In other words, they are looking for work.

Michelle Mittelstadt is with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. She says the same issues drive the people trying to reach the U.S. from nations south of the border.

"Whether it's in Europe or the United States or elsewhere, they're much more willing to put themselves in the hands of smugglers and to undertake journeys that they understand are very dangerous. But for them are worth the calculus because of the conditions in their countries of origin. They feel so little hope."

Issues for host countries

The huge migration into Europe has put pressure on schools and other government systems in several countries. This influenced some politicians to move farther to the right on immigration issues and to oppose increased immigration to their countries.

Mittelstadt says these developments did send a message that Europe can no longer accept unlimited migrants. However, she adds that the number of desperate attempts to flee to Europe and other places is likely to continue.

"When you look at what's happening right now in Africa - and the famine and just the instability in some of these countries. And you look at the continuing unrest in Syria and the destabilization in the region and all of that, these are not problems that are ending anytime soon."

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn reported this story for Learning English, with additional information from Reuters and the Associated Press. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

tractor-trailer – n. large truck used to transport loads of cargo

heatstroke n. serious medical condition caused by staying too long in the heat

immigrant n. person who goes to a country with the intention of living there

human smuggling n. the importation of people into a country illegally, with those being smuggled generally cooperating

migrant n. person who changes country of residence, especially to find work

human trafficking n. the importation of people into a country against their will, for the specific purpose of exploiting them to work in the sex trade or other forced work situations

persecutionn. treating someone cruelly or unfairly

journey n. traveling from one place to another

calculus – n cost or value of something

famine n. situation in which many people do not have enough food to eat