NEW YORK – On the third anniversary of 53 migrants being found dead in an abandoned tractor trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller is asking people to continue to build a border city known for “respect, acceptance, and care for migrants.”

“May the remembrance of these brothers who died that day, the 53 of them, be on our minds,” García-Siller said in a June 27 video message. “May we pray for their souls, and their families, and as we move on may San Antonio be known for respect, acceptance and care for migrants.”

“Everyone deserves to live, and we have so much to offer,” García-Siller added.

The abandoned tractor trailer was discovered late on Monday, June 27, 2022, with a total of 67 migrants on board. Of the 53 who died, forty were male and 13 were female. Their countries of origin included Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The migrants were in the truck as part of a smuggling operation.

Earlier this year a fourth person, Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal, who was a member of the human smuggling organization responsible for the failed smuggling attempt, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens, and placing lives in jeopardy. He faces 20 years in prison.

The other co-defendants, whose cases are still pending, include Homero Zamorano, who served as the driver of the tractor trailer; Felipe Orduna-Torres, and Armando Gonzales-Ortega.

García-Siller said that he remembers visiting those who survived in the hospital, some of whom died as a result of the injuries they suffered in the truck before they were found. He called the tragedy a “terrible mark in the life of the beautiful city of San Antonio.”

García-Siller said the faithful in the archdiocese are one with the families of the 53 victims. The archbishop also said that together the faithful in the archdiocese “are with one another to promote justice, care, compassion and acceptance,” and invited them to pray that “we become truly people of God.”

“That we don’t promote the culture of death, but a culture of life,” García-Siller said. “That we are all connected. San Antonio needs to be known for a good place where people can live.”

When Crux spoke with García-Siller after the tragedy he said he felt responsible, as should the country.

“Everyone who dies as an immigrant, I feel responsible,” García-Siller told Crux. “And we as a country cannot just say another 53 immigrants died that were trying to come and invade our country. We are responsible with how they are treated, and how they are used, or abused, or if they are human trafficked in the United States. It’s not another country’s problem. It’s our nation’s problem.”

“And it has been decades and the leaders who are learned, who are experts, who are the leaders of communities of the country; they cannot dialogue as people of integrity and deal with the issue,” the archbishop continued. “It’s just a negative connotation about the immigrants from the south that has been increasing over the years.”

Two years later and the sentiment still holds true. The nation’s immigration crisis has not subsided. The number of migrants that United States Customs and Border Protection agents encounter on a monthly basis are around the same now as it was then. Further, federal lawmakers have not come any closer to overhauling the nation’s immigration system in a manner the U.S. bishops have long advocated for.

In his reflection on the third anniversary of the tragedy, García-Siller prayed for those who died, and those who are on the front lines serving migrants in San Antonio.

“May God bless all those who service migrants in San Antonio,” García-Siller said. “May the mercy of God be above those who died, and may the mercy of God lead us to be merciful, as well.”

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