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Biden admin vows to go after smugglers over migrant deaths as Abbott places blame

NBC News logo NBC News 6/28/2022 Shannon Pettypiece and Kristen Welker and Julia Ainsley
Onlookers stand near the scene where a tractor-trailer with multiple dead bodies was discovered, on June 27, 2022, in San Antonio. © Eric Gay Onlookers stand near the scene where a tractor-trailer with multiple dead bodies was discovered, on June 27, 2022, in San Antonio.

TELFS, Austria — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas vowed to find those responsible for the deaths of at least 50 people abandoned in a tractor-trailer in Texas as the state's governor sought to place blame on President Joe Biden's policies.

“Human smugglers are callous individuals who have no regard for the vulnerable people they exploit and endanger in order to make a profit,” Mayorkas said in a tweet late Monday following the grim discovery. “We will work alongside our partners to hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable and continue to take action to disrupt smuggling networks.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier said Biden was responsible for the incident.

"These deaths are on Biden," he tweeted. "They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law."

At least 46 people were initially found dead in the tractor-trailer, which was found in an undeveloped area of San Antonio, while 16 others, including four children, were hospitalized, city officials said. The incident appears to be the deadliest human smuggling case in modern U.S. history.

In a statement released while Biden was attending a NATO summit overseas, the president called the loss of life "horrifying and heartbreaking."


Video: Biden administration plans to bus migrants to shelters deeper in the U.S. (NBC News)

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"Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry," Biden said.

Three people were taken into custody after the discovery, San Antonio Police Chief William P. McManus said, adding that authorities did not know if they were definitely connected to the incident. He did not expand on their identities.

Abbott has increasingly attacked Biden over his immigration policies, including his attempts to lift a Covid-related restriction known as Title 42 that has barred many asylum-seekers from staying in the United States. Abbot began to bus migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., in what he said was an attempt to bring the migrant surge to the attention of the administration.  

Mayorkas said the Department of Homeland Security has begun an investigation into the deaths with the support of local law enforcement officials.

“I am heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives,” he tweeted. “Far too many lives have been lost as individuals — including families, women, and children — take this dangerous journey.”

Advocacy groups on Tuesday called for overhauling U.S. immigration policy, including Title 42, to avoid such tragedies in the future.

“This tragedy is the inevitable result of migration policies on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border that focus on deterrence rather than managing migration from a common-sense, humanitarian perspective," said Oscar Chacón, director of Alianza Americas, a network of migrant-led groups. "More death and despair will follow if we continue down this route." 

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