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Two dead among numerous people found 'suffocating' in train car in Texas

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There have been deadly tornadoes overnight in Mississippi. We have more on that elsewhere on our program and right now at npr.org. First, police in Uvalde, Texas, say two people have died. Ten more are in hospitals after being found suffocating in a shipping container nearby. In all, 15 people were in that container. Texas Public Radio's Joey Palacios joins us now from San Antonio. Joey, thanks for being with us.

JOEY PALACIOS, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: What have you learned so far?

PALACIOS: So this happened along Highway 90. It's a major transportation corridor between the border city of Del Rio and San Antonio. The incident was reported about 11 miles away from Uvalde near the small town of Knippa. It started with a 911 call to Uvalde police, and they relayed the information to Border Patrol, which searched the train and found 15 people suffocating in a shipping container. Five survivors were taken to hospitals around the Uvalde area and five to San Antonio.

SIMON: What's been learned about the people in that shipping container?

PALACIOS: Police said they're all undocumented immigrants. We reached out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who said they were looking into it as a possible human smuggling incident. Police say Union Pacific Railroad is leading the investigation into what happened on the train. Uvalde police and Border Patrol were two of the main law enforcement organizations involved in this response. It's hard not to point out that they were two of the main groups of officers responsible for the botched response to the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde last May. This is obviously a different story about a year later, and it's too early to analyze law enforcement's response to this incident. But it's worth noting, this area of the Highway 90 corridor has extremely heavy law enforcement presence that's been doing more immigration enforcement in recent years.

SIMON: What does that immigration enforcement look like where you are, Joey?

PALACIOS: This Highway 90 corridor is actually the epicenter of Governor Greg Abbott's controversial Operation Lone Star, which uses the Texas Department of Public Safety and the National Guard to arrest migrants on trespassing charges. And anyone who lives along Highway 90 has become accustomed to the term bailouts. That's when a law enforcement officer pursues a vehicle carrying migrants, and the driver crashes the car intentionally, and the occupants jump out and try to escape. According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, these bailouts have led to more than 30 migrant deaths since the start of Operation Lone Star in 2021. Uvalde's mayor, Don McLaughlin, said law enforcement in the area has dealt with immigration-related pursuits regularly.

DON MCLAUGHLIN: We deal with this every day down here - not deaths every day, but we're dealing with immigrants every day, seven days a week.

SIMON: But, Joey, this incident does stand out. Two people in that shipping container have died. You have covered several tragedies that stem from migration to the area.

PALACIOS: Yeah, it was in June of last year when 53 migrants were found dead inside a tractor-trailer in San Antonio. The victims were from Mexico, Central America. And, you know, actually, the last time you and I spoke was about this incident. In 2017, 10 migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer in a Walmart parking lot also here in San Antonio. After this incident, Republicans have called for harder line immigration policies, and Democrats have called for an easier legal pathway to citizenship and entry so people don't have to undertake such a dangerous journey. Meanwhile, people from all over the world are making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border in search of a better life in large numbers, and this area will continue to feel the stress of it.

SIMON: Texas Public Radio's Joey Palacios, thanks so much.

PALACIOS: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Joey Palacios, Texas Public Radio