US president Joe Biden has pledged to crackdown on the “multibillion-dollar criminal smuggling industry” after 50 people were found dead in a truck near San Antonio in Texas.
Mr Biden said initial reports suggested that the deaths were caused by human traffickers “who have no regard for the lives they endanger and exploit to make a profit”.
He described the deaths of the 50 people – many from Mexico and Guatemala – as “horrifying and heart-breaking”.
The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said migration would be a key topic of discussion when he meets Mr Biden in Washington in a fortnight.
He said the deaths of the 50 people in San Antonio “is a bitter proof that we need to keep insisting on supporting people, so that they don’t have a need to abandon their towns”.
It is understood that 22 of the people who died were Mexican nationals, seven were originally from Guatemala and at least two were Honduran. The nationality of the others has not yet been announced.
San Antonio fire chief Charles Hood said that 16 people who had been in the truck were alive, including four teenagers, and had been transported to various hospitals in the region. It is understood that two later died in hospital.
Mr Hood said patients were hot to the touch and suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion.
“None of these people were able to extricate themselves out of the truck,” Mr Hood said.
Temperatures on Monday in the San Antonio area hit highs of almost 40 degrees. Local and US authorities said there were no signs of water and no visible working air conditioning inside the truck.
San Antonio’s mayor, Ron Nirenberg, called the discovery “a horrific human tragedy”.
“The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis, but tonight we are dealing with a horrific human tragedy, so I would urge you all to think compassionately,” Mr Nirenberg said.
Police chief Bill McManus said three people had been detained away from the trailer site but their connection to the discovery of the bodies was unclear.
Texas governor Greg Abbott, who is a Republican and who is running for re-election in November, directly blamed Mr Biden’s immigration policies for the deaths.
“These deaths are on Biden,” Mr Abbott said. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Mr Biden in a statement on Tuesday said: “This incident underscores the need to go after the multibillion-dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and leading to far too many innocent deaths. In Los Angeles two weeks ago, I announced that the United States has launched a first-of-its-kind anti-smuggling campaign with our regional partners. In the first three months, we have made over 2,400 arrests, and that work will only intensify in the months ahead.
“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.” – Additional reporting: Reuters