Five illegal immigrants died after crossing the border into southern Arizona’s treacherous desert and authorities searched Monday for a sixth.
“We’re hoping to find him or her alive,” said Andy Adame, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which covers most of the Arizona-Mexico border.
Two adults and two juveniles survived. They and the other six had become stranded in the rugged terrain Sunday after crossing the border. Temperatures soared over 100 degrees.
One of the survivors was a Mexican man who sought help Sunday morning at a ranch west of Gila Bend, about 75 miles north of the border, Adame said.
Over the next several hours, Border Patrol search crews found four dead migrants and a fifth who died while en route to a hospital. Two of the dead were females.
It was the deadliest border crossing in Arizona since May 2001, when Border Patrol agents found 14 dead immigrants on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge near Yuma. Twelve others survived that crossing, including a smuggler.
More than 115 illegal immigrants have been found dead since Oct. 1 in the Arizona desert, the busiest illegal entry point along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It surprises me that we have not had more deaths in large groups,” said the Rev. Robin Hoover, founder of Humane Borders, a group that puts water in the desert for illegal crossers.
A deadly legacy
A record 154 immigrants died sneaking into Arizona in the 2003 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, most of them succumbing to the desert heat.
The single-deadliest border crossing in Arizona history occurred in May 2001, when Border Patrol agents found 14 dead immigrants on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge near Yuma. Twelve others survived, including a smuggler.
Adame said he didn’t know how long the group found Sunday had been in the desert. He also didn’t know their nationalities, except for the man who went for help.
Three of the immigrants were hospitalized and were expected to survive, said Adame. One of them, a woman, was taken to a Phoenix hospital, where she was reported in stable condition. Officials wouldn’t release further details Monday. It was unclear where the others were taken.
The man who reported the group was treated for dehydration and didn’t require hospitalization. He was in Border Patrol custody Monday, along with one of one of the three other survivors, who had been released from the hospital, Adame said.
79 immigrants found in truck trailer
The Arizona incident was the second in as many days involving mass movement of undocumented immigrants. A trucker accused of cramming 79 illegal immigrants, including 14 children, into his trailer on a hot summer day was ordered to remain jailed Monday.
Alvin Auxter, 52, was stopped Sunday on Interstate 20 in Fort Worth, Texas. None of the immigrants, all from Mexico, appeared to be hurt.
Auxter, of El Paso, was held on a criminal complaint that he illegally transported immigrants into the country. A judge ordered him detained until his preliminary hearing Thursday.
“The biggest thing that stands out is the number and the time of year,” federal prosecutor Chris Wolfe said. “They’re inside a trailer, it’s August and it’s dangerous.”
Auxter’s lawyer declined to comment, saying he had not yet spoken with his client.
The 53-foot-long truck was taking the immigrants from El Paso to Dallas when state trooper John Forrest noticed the vehicle did not have required state numbers and had nothing identifying a trucking company. Auxter also had no valid driver’s license, officers said.
“Anybody doing commercial vehicle enforcement who saw this truck would have stopped it,” Forrest said. “It may as well have had a big red sign saying, ‘Pull me over.’ This guy was set up exclusively to transport people.”
A Fort Worth police officer who was working with Forrest pulled the truck over for an inspection.
‘It was just packed’
“I wasn’t expecting to see a whole truckload of people,” said the officer, Otto Janke. “Nobody inside was making a sound. At first, I thought it was 15, 20, maybe 30 people. It was just packed.”
He said the trailer was unventilated and hot, but the immigrants inside had drinking water and appeared to be in good shape. Outside temperatures at the time were in the upper 70s.
Wolfe said Auxter could be indicted within 30 days. He said he was unsure whether other defendants will be charged.
The immigrants included 14 children between ages 3 and 17, according to the criminal complaint. The complaint said the immigrants were taken to El Paso then guided into a trailer by a smuggler. Each paid about $1,500 to the smugglers.
The immigrants will likely be returned to Mexico, police said.
On July 18, Forrest found 26 men and four women inside a trailer hauling soft drinks to North Carolina. Two truckers are accused in that case.
Last year, 19 people were found dead when a tractor-trailer packed with more than 70 illegal immigrants was abandoned at a truck stop near the south Texas town of Victoria. A smuggler pleaded guilty in June and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison at her sentencing Sept. 13.