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Catholic Charities official visits with survivors of migrant smuggling tragedy


In addition to those 51 people who died in that tractor-trailer in San Antonio this week, more than a dozen survivors were rushed to nearby hospitals in the 100-degree heat. Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities San Antonio, visited a couple of the survivors.

ANTONIO FERNANDEZ: One of them was with tubes and everything. He was not responsive. So we were just able to pray for him. We saw a second person, a young lady, who actually - after we were praying for her, she actually opened her eyes. We asked her, are you from Guatemala? And she said, yes. So we asked her, do you want to pray? And she said, yes. I think that may have helped her tremendously.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. So what kind of help are Catholic Charities able to provide for them at this point?

FERNANDEZ: Well, right now, just we're on standby just to be sure that, if they are released and they need a place to stay in San Antonio or a house or food or clothing, financial assistance, we will be there for them. And if we need to help their families coming from other countries, we will try our best to actually help anyone in need.

MARTÍNEZ: Fernandez says that he has watched thousands of people come through San Antonio on their way to other U.S. cities. They're fleeing Central America, Cuba and Venezuela. I asked if he expects more migrants to be smuggled by truck as migration surges at the southern border.

FERNANDEZ: You know, I've been nine years in San Antonio Catholic Charities, and this is my third truck. We know that migrants are coming more now. I mean, for us at Catholic Charities San Antonio, we saw a spike in March. We've seen a small decline now through these weeks in our hotels. Usually, the summer months are a little slower because of the heat, but I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what's going to happen with Title 42. I don't know what's going to happen with immigration issues. So for us, it's - we just need to be ready, and that's what we strive every day.

MARTÍNEZ: For the people - if you had a chance to talk to any of the people in the previous two truck smuggling cases, what have they told you about why they would take such a dangerous chance like this?

FERNANDEZ: You know, the people that I have spoke more or less the same thing. It's just they live in absolute poverty - fear of gangs, violence, and they just need to have a safe place for them to live. I mean, they're selling everything they have to make it here. And it's the saddest thing ever because they don't want to come. They would like to be in their country, but they can't. It's just about a better life.

MARTÍNEZ: And what kinds of things do you say to them? What kind of conversations do you have?

FERNANDEZ: You know, they have gone through so much trauma. I mean, some of these people, they may make it here in 15 days. Some of them are going to take months to get here. So when they are here, you just have to be happy for them. So mostly what I say is welcome. Welcome to America. This is your dream, and you made it happen, and you are safe now.

MARTÍNEZ: Antonio Fernandez is CEO of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.