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Tractor-trailer full of migrants crashes in southern Mexico, killing at least 55

A tractor-trailer jammed with more than 100 migrants rolled over and hit a pedestrian bridge in southern Mexico on Dec. 9. (Video: The Washington Post)
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MEXICO CITY — A tractor-trailer carrying more than 100 migrants crashed in southern Mexico on Thursday afternoon, killing at least 55 people, according to Mexican authorities.

The crash happened in the state of Chiapas, not far from Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Officials said the victims appeared to be mostly Central American migrants. Dozens of bodies were moved to the side of a main road and covered in bedsheets, towels and body bags.

Mexican officials said 55 were killed. Luis Manuel García Moreno, the state director of civil protection, said dozens more were injured and taken to local hospitals. Nineteen of the dead were minors. The youngest was 3 years old. Video footage showed the trailer on its side with more bodies and debris inside.

According to a list compiled by the state civil protection force, the majority of the victims were Guatemalans. There were also three Dominicans, one Honduran, one Salvadoran, one Ecuadoran and one Mexican.

Survivors described being tossed into the air when the trailer lost control around a bend in the road.

“The turn grabbed us and because of the weight of the people inside, on the turn, we all went flying,” Celso Pacheco, a Guatemalan man, told El Universal.

Thousands of migrants transit through Mexico hidden in tractor-trailers like the one that crashed Thursday to avoid checkpoints set up by Mexico’s national guard and immigration agency. They are almost always bound for the U.S. border.

As the Biden administration has come under pressure because of the number of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border, it has leaned on Mexico to stop those flows. In recent months, the number of migrant apprehensions in Mexico has risen to record levels. By the end of October, Mexico had apprehended 228,000 migrants in 2021, the highest annual number in history.

That crackdown has pushed smugglers to look for ways to avoid detection, including the use of tractor-trailers. In November, Mexican authorities found 600 migrants crammed into two trailers in the state of Veracruz. Those trailers are less conspicuous than the commercial buses or trains that migrants once took in greater numbers. They are typically the same 18-wheelers that stream across Mexico daily, carrying goods to the United States. The smugglers often charge more than $10,000 per migrant.

President Biden promised a more humane approach to U.S. immigration policy, but his administration has already faced two crises on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

In the wake of Thursday’s accident, the presidents of Mexico and Guatemala offered their condolences.

“I deeply regret the tragedy caused by the overturning of a trailer in Chiapas carrying Central American migrants. It is very painful. I offer a hug to the families of the victims,” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said.

“I deeply regret the tragedy in the State of Chiapas and I sympathize with the families of the victims to whom we offer all the necessary consular assistance, including repatriations,” said Guatemala’s president, Alejandro Giammattei.

The Biden administration has joined with Mexico on a range of policies aimed to deter migration to the United States. Under Title 42, the United States is expelling migrants to Mexico before they can apply for asylum or other protections. Mexico then frequently buses those migrants back to the Guatemala border, leaving some migrants to attempt the dangerous journey again.

Beginning this week, the Biden administration is also implementing a Trump-era program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forces some migrants to wait in Mexico for their asylum cases to be processed in the United States. A federal judge in August ordered the administration to renegotiate the reinstatement of that program with Mexico.