The Texas truck driver who was allegedly ‘high on meth’ and killed 53 migrants from Mexico and Central America – known as ‘the deadliest human trafficking’ episode in US history – appeared in federal court on Thursday.
Homero Zamorano, Jr., 45, was arrested on Wednesday on criminal charges for his alleged involvement in a botched smuggling ring that resulted in dozens of deaths, according to the Department of Justice and the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
Zamorano cowardly hid in the brush after attempting to evade San Antonio police officers by posing as a survivor, a Mexican immigrant official said.
Federal prosecutors said two of the suspects, including Zamorano, who was the driver, face charges carrying potential life sentences or the death penalty, if convicted.
San Antonio Police officers were led to Zamorano’s hide-out and detained him. Surveillance footage provided by Laredo Sector border patrol agents showed the tractor-trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint.
The video confirmed the black-colored shirt with stripe detail and hat was the clothing Zamorano, the driver, had been wearing.
The tractor-trailer carrying the migrants cleared an inland Border Patrol checkpoint, and ended up in San Antonio before the gruesome discovery was made of dozens of bodies stacked on top of one another, the Associated Press reported.
Temperatures in San Antonio soared to 103 degrees on Monday. Inside the tractor-trailer there had been no signs of a working air-conditioner.
First responders said many of the victims suffered from heatstroke and dehydration, a report said.
Homero Zamorano, Jr., 45, was arrested Wednesday on criminal charges for his alleged involvement in a botched smuggling ring that resulted in dozens of deaths, according to the Department of Justice and the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas
Surveillance cameras captured Zamorano, 45, driving the rig across the border hours before he allegedly abandoned it on a road on the outskirts of San Antonio
Police say Zamorano was ‘very high on meth’ at the time of his arrest and had attempted to disguise himself as a victim of the tragedy to ‘avoid being detained’
Christian Martinez, 28, who was also charged in the criminal complaint, was arrested in Palestine, Texas on Monday. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death, according to the DOJ.
On Wednesday, Martinez made an initial appearance in Tyler, Texas.
The investigation revealed that both Zamorano and Martinez communicated before the botched human-smuggling incident took place.
The truck was carrying 73 people, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press, though a DOJ source told DailyMail.com that, to their knowledge, only 64 people had been on board as it made its way through the checkpoint on Interstate 35.
It’s unclear if agents stopped the driver for questioning at the inland checkpoint or if the truck went through unimpeded. Those inside the tractor-trailer were suspected of entering the country illegally, the DOJ reported.
The incident left 53 migrants, including five children, dead. Officials have identified 34 victims
Residents of San Antonio cry as they attend a Tuesday night vigil for the victims found in an abandoned truck
Members of the community take part in a vigil for the dozens of people have been found dead Monday in a semi-trailer in San Antonio
According to court documents, Homeland Security Investigators (HSI) responded to the scene on Monday involving 73 individuals suspected of entering the United States illegally.
At the scene, investigators confirmed 48 individuals had died. Twenty-two of those were Mexican nationals, seven were Guatemalan , two Honduran and 17 were of unknown origin but suspected to be undocumented non-citizens, the DOJ reported.
A mobile fingerprint device was used by HSI to confirm the undocumented status of those in the tractor-trailer.
Sixteen of the undocumented individuals were transported to local hospitals for medical evaluation. Five people died at hospital.
Officials are working with foreign consulate officers to properly notify family members of the deceased.
There are roughly 110 inland highway checkpoints along the Mexican and Canadian borders. Monday’s catastrophe raises the question if checkpoints are able to adequately spot people in cars and trucks who enter the US illegally, Associated Press reported.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who drives through the checkpoint almost weekly, said investigators believe migrants boarded the truck in or around Laredo, though that is unconfirmed, the news outlet reported.
Zamarano’s Facebook shows him with various different selfies and a few photos with his dog, and his love for Mexico and the Houston Astros.
According to his bio, he is single, hails from Mission, Texas, enjoys smoking marijuana, and has a high school education.
His estranged wife told The New York Post that ‘he was a good man’ and was ‘shocked by his involvement.’
Margie Tamara Paz Grajera, of Honduras, (pictured left) was among the deceased on Wednesday. She had been studying at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. She was dating Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero (pictured below right). Adela Betulia Ramirez Quezada of Honduras was also among the deceased
The Honduran government on Wednesday named brothers Fernando Jose Redondo Caballero (left) and Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero (right) among the deceased
Sisters Carla and Griselda Carac-Tambriz, of Guatemala, were among the 53 migrants who died in an abandoned semi-truck trailer in the sweltering Texas heat on Monday. The sisters came to America to ‘achieve our dreams and also help our family’
How Joe Biden has presided over RECORD levels of migration, deaths and rescues at the southern border
Migrant crossings, rescues and deaths along the southern border have hit record levels under the leadership of President Joe Biden.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is on pace to record more than 2 million arrests this year as hundreds of thousands of migrants seek to enter the U.S. travel from South and Central America up through Mexico.
Migrant crossing levels have been on the rise since Biden took office, with Border Patrol having tallied a record 1.73 million arrests at the border in 2021.
Deaths have also skyrocketed, with the number of migrants fatalities reported in 2021, more than doubling those recorded in 2020.
Biden argued on that authorities need to take action against the ‘multi-billion dollar criminal smuggling industry’ that he claims preys on migrants and causes ‘far too many innocent deaths.’
The president’s push to tackle the border crisis came after authorities found at least 53 migrants dead in an abandoned tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas on June 27.
The incident marks the deadliest human smuggling on American soil since 2003, when 19 migrants died after riding inside the rear compartment of sweltering 18-wheeler while they traveled from South Texas to Houston.
The number of migrant arrivals along the U.S.-Mexico border have hit record levels under the leadership of President Joe Biden
CBP data published earlier this month revealed immigration arrests rose to the highest levels ever recorded in May 2022.
Agents made 239,416 arrests along the border last month, a two percent increase from the number reported in April.
The agency claims it’s preparing for a potential increase in migration levels.
Death incidents at the southern border more than doubled last year, compared to the numbers recorded in previous years.
The agency recorded 557 migrant deaths along the southwest border in 2021. There were 254 recorded deaths in 2020 and 300 in 2019.
The International Organization for Migration, which documents migrant deaths, alleges that the number of people who died attempting to cross the border in 2021 was actually more than 650.
CBP has not published a death tally for 2022 but recorded data shows at least 87 migrants have died while trying to come into the U.S.
Death incidents at the southern border more than doubled last year, compared to the numbers recorded in previous years
Additionally, CBP revealed the number of rescues across the southern border to date for 2022 also outpaces the number recorded in 2021.
Since October, Border Patrol has performed 14,278 search-and-rescue missions in a seven-month period through May.
These numbers are already exceeding the 12,833 missions performed during the previous 12-month period and up from 5,071 the year before.
The latest CBP data showed a large number of migrants are coming from Mexico, Central America, Cuba and Haiti. There is also a growing number of migrants arriving from Turkey, India, Russia and other countries outside of the Western Hemisphere.
CBP revealed the number of rescues across the southern border to date for 2022 also outpaces the number recorded in 2021
Border agents attribute the higher-than-usual number of repeat crossings in May due to the fact that migrants expelled under Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction currently tied up in court, face no legal repercussions if they try to cross again.
The number of unique individuals attempted to cross in May was 177,793; 25 percent of those stopped by agents had attempted to cross at least once before in the prior 12 months, according to CBP. The average re-encounter rate prior to Title 42 was 15 percent.
Most migrants attempting to cross in May were not families but single adults – 69 percent.
And unlike previous months, Title 42 is no longer the main authority under which migrants are expelled, only 42 percent of migrants were removed under the CDC’s health order.
Most of the migrants expelled under Title 42 were single adults – only about one in six who came in families with children under 18 were subject to Title 42. Unaccompanied children are exempt from the rule.
Fifty-eight percent were expelled under Title 8. Under Title 8, a U.S. immigration policy used when migrants who try to cross unlawfully cannot establish any ‘credible fear’ basis for being in the country. DHS has said it will expand use of Title 8 once Title 42 is gone.
The Biden administration planned to end Title 42 on May 23 but a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the move three days before.