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Nonprofit leader, immigration lawyer discuss motivations migrants have taking dangerous routes into the US

Edna Yang with American Gateways said the semi-truck tragedy in San Antonio shows we have a broken immigration system that needs to be reformed.

AUSTIN, Texas — In the wake of more than 50 people dying from heat-related illnesses in the back of a semi-truck in San Antonio, some people are pointing to what they call a “broken immigration system” for migrants resorting to unsafe ways of getting into the U.S.

Immigration lawyer Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch said migrants really need the option to apply for asylum; right now, that is impossible. Title 42 closed our borders to asylum seekers to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and it's still in place.

We know at least two dozen of the victims in the trailer in San Antonio were from Mexico, some from Guatemala and Honduras and others are still unknown. 

Lincoln-Goldfinch said as long as Title 42 is in place, we will continue to see migrants risk their lives to escape their home countries.

"Working with people from Central America and Mexico who have been targeted by cartels is that any type of unimaginable violence can happen to them or their children in the middle of the street," said Lincoln-Goldfinch. "I have a client whose entire family was murdered in front of three small children in another country by their cartel recently, and that is somewhat routine in certain places."

As for why people don't migrate legally, Lincoln-Goldfinch said besides asylum, the only other way to legally get into the U.S. is through sponsorship from a family member who lives here legally or through an employer. She said both are costly and time-consuming.

"It can be a decades-long wait and your relative can die while you're waiting," said Lincoln-Goldfinch. "The same is also true on the employment side. Not only are there not enough visas available, but employees have to find an employer in the United States who is willing to sponsor them and hire them and then wait for them to be able to come here and work."

Edna Yang, the co-executive director of American Gateways, helps to provide legal advocacy, education and representation to low-income immigrants in 23 Central Texas counties. She said the people they help are seeking asylum and safety.

"When we see asylum seekers, these are individuals who are fleeing all types of harm and persecution in their home country where they can't receive protection," said Yang.

The 2021 Fiscal Year Report by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows that there were 73% more unaccompanied kids crossing the southwest border than compared to 2019. It also found that there were 18% more women and children than in 2019 when looking at all border areas.

"These are human beings who really need our help and they need access to our justice system, and we should be able to give them that," said Yang.

She said crossing the border into the U.S. is a dream that doesn’t come without a huge, and potentially deadly, risk.

"I think it shows the desperation but also really exemplifies the broken immigration system that we currently have, along with the increased militarization at the border caused by our state government officials," said Yang.

Of the border patrol encounters over the past eight months, just over 1 million were single adults, about 312,000 people were in family units and nearly 100,000 were unaccompanied minors.

When we look at the numbers from field operations officers over the past eight months, which are at ports of entry, they saw about 54,000 single adults, 39,000 people in family units, 2,000 accompanied minors and more then 1,500 unaccompanied minors.

Of all these people listed above who have been encountered by federal border enforcement officials over the past eight months, just more than 1% were convicted criminals or people who had warrants for their arrest. Most are people seeking a better life.

“They’re seeking a better life for themselves, their children, their siblings, their parents. And they're trying to find protection,” said Yang.

Chris Magnus, Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, sent KVUE a statement saying, in part, that he was "horrified at this tragic loss of life near San Antonio. This speaks to the desperation of migrants who would put their lives in the hands of callous human smugglers who show no regard for human life.”

Yang said this desperation is real and that changes need to be made to our immigration system to prevent more tragedies from happening.

“I think when change happens on a federal level, our state officials will be able to follow in line with that, currently because there is no immigration reform. What we see are individuals trying to make immigration much more of a political issue and a divisive issue when it shouldn't be,” said Yang.

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