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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Biden faces new border furor after 48 die in Texas truck

By Josh Wingrove and Joe Carroll Washington Post

The discovery of dozens of people dead in a tractor-trailer in Texas is renewing focus on the political standoff over the U.S.-Mexico border, with President Joe Biden’s administration under pressure to crack down both on conventional crossings and extreme alternatives.

At least 48 people died in San Antonio, while 16 others were taken to the hospital. Authorities have launched a human smuggling investigation, and Mexico said that nearly half the dead were its citizens, but the investigation is ongoing.

The sobering discovery on Monday has put fresh light on the border, where lengthy backlogs, byzantine immigration rules and wrangling over pandemic-era restrictions complicate the options for people to cross legally, leaving some to try and enter illegally through smuggling networks.

The number of fatalities is strikingly high, and it comes as Biden struggles to reshape the U.S. approach, prompting a fresh wave of criticism from Republicans and border state officials.

“The loss of life is tragic, it’s unnecessary, and it’s a product of inaction within the federal government over decades,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told CNN on Tuesday. The area has seen issues with human smuggling before, but this is probably the worst, he added. “The people that are responsible for subjecting other people in these conditions should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The border has long been an intractable problem for Biden. His administration is moving to lift Title 42, a pandemic-era measure that expedited removal of people. Republicans have opposed lifting of the measure, and the effort remains mired in a legal fight.

Congress has done nothing to move on immigration reform or to even confirm nominees to top posts. Biden’s pick to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ed Gonzalez, dropped out this week, citing “paralyzing political gridlock that threatens far more than our nation’s border.” Several Republicans opposed Gonzelez’s confirmation, which was stymied for more than a year.

Republicans have pushed for hardline measures that echo efforts from former President Donald Trump to build a border wall and physically stop migrants from crossing into the U.S..

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has advocated those approaches, was quick to pin blame for the deaths on Biden, though smuggling cases are often spurred when people have no other option.

Democratic and Republican U.S. House members visited south Texas June 17 to tour the impoverished migrant communities known as colonias.

“Every state is becoming a border state because drugs are being trafficked across, there’s human trafficking, and the toll is really significant,” Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin told reporters after he and three other Republicans took a boat tour of the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas. “The answer is very simple, there’s a policy solution to this. We need to secure the United States-Mexico border.”

Mexico’s foreign minister said 22 of the dead were Mexican citizens, while others were from Honduras and Guatemala. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would discuss immigration during a White House meeting with Biden, previously scheduled for July 12.

The investigation is ongoing, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also signaling that it’s a suspected case of human smuggling.

The White House rejected Republican criticisms, saying the border “is closed” already.

“We will continue to take action to disrupt human smuggling networks,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday on Air Force One. “The fact of the matter is the border is closed.”