LULAC working to assist survivors of immigrant smuggling in San Antonio

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The League of United Latin American Citizens is working with the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. to determine what help those who escaped from a smuggler's truck in San Antonio need.

Nine people died inside the truck left in a Walmart parking lot. Some of the survivors remain hospitalized, including some in critical condition. Temperatures inside the trailer carried by a big rig truck were estimated at 150 degrees or more.

"We'll be looking at things like getting them an attorney for guardianship if they're minors in a hospital," said Rick Dovalina, who is on the legal committee of LULAC and a Houston immigration lawyer. "We're also looking at assisting the families that come over here and interpreting for whatever they need here. Those are things we can volunteer."

Dovalina has clients who have been smuggled into the country.

"For those coming from Honduras and Guatamala, the cost can be 10 to 15 thousand dollars," Dovalina said. "For those coming from Mexico, the going rate right now is 7 to 9 thousand dollars."

Those making the journey, he said, have to make it across the border on foot, avoiding major crossings, such as international bridges, as well as border checkpoints inland. That involves crossing nearly 40 miles of barren Texas ranchland.

They're picked up by smugglers, usually in tractor-trailer trucks.

"They don't meet them on the other side of the border," he said. "Because they'd be searched by Border Patrol there, and again at the checkpoints."

The money is paid by family already here in the U.S.

"They tell me they know how dangerous it is, but that they don't have a choice. It's either do this, or stay where they are and slowly watch their families starve," Dovalina said.

The deadliest human smuggling case in the U.S. happened in Victoria in 2003. Inside a locked trailer, 19 people died after they were abandoned by the driver. Among those who died was a 5-year-old boy.

"I'm not surprised this (San Antonio) happened," Dovalina said. "It's going to happen again. It's just tragic no one learned from the past mistake."

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