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Jose Mario Licona and his family spent 18 hours in a refrigerated truck being smuggled to the Mexican-US border -- a journey he feels lucky to have survived.
Others have been less fortunate, including dozens of migrants from Mexico and Central America found dead on Monday after being abandoned in a sweltering tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas. In all, 53 people died in the incident.
Licona knew all too well the dangers of entrusting his life to the criminal gangs trafficking migrants in trucks that are often overcrowded and lack ventilation.
But the smugglers -- who were paid $13,000 by his relatives to take him, his wife and three children to Texas -- left him with no choice, he said.
"When you make a deal, the first thing you ask (the smugglers) is not to be put in a container, but during the journey they do what they want," Licona told AFP in a shelter in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.
"Often they leave the containers abandoned" with people shut inside, the 48-year-old Honduran said.
Licona, his wife and children aged two, six and eight traveled in a truck from Mexico City to the northeastern city of Reynosa, just south of Hidalgo, Texas.
Around 100 people were traveling in the same vehicle, which was not checked even once by Mexican authorities during the more than 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) journey, Licona said.
From Reynosa the family crossed the border on foot, but they were sent back by the US authorities.
The smuggling networks operating the tractor-trailers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, said Dolores Paris, a migration expert at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
"We're talking about criminal enterprises," she told AFP.
The tractor-trailer involved in the San Antonio tragedy went through two immigration checkpoints in Texas and had cloned license plates, according to the Mexican government.
Investigators are still trying to establish where the vehicle began its journey.
It was the second such disaster in the city in a little over five years.
In July 2017, 10 migrants were found dead in an overheated truck that was discovered parked outside a Walmart supermarket.
In 2003, 19 migrants died in similar circumstances in Texas.
Licona, a shopkeeper, left Honduras in May after he was shot in the arm during a robbery.
The trailer ride was so grueling that he still regrets it, he said.
"It was very cold. I gave my children two pairs of pants, three shirts and a quilt. They slept during the journey. We brought hydration drinks for them but I didn't want to wake them. Thank God we're here," he said.
The cold made his arm hurt more, but he endured it in the hope of reaching Texas.
After crossing over from Mexico, the family turned themselves over to a US border patrol in an unsuccessful attempt to gain asylum.
They now hope to be given another chance to enter the United States on humanitarian grounds.
'Angel saved me'
Migrants staying in shelters near the Mexican-US border said that the journeys last up to two days with as many as 400 people crammed into a tractor-trailer like "animals."
Some undress or faint in the heat. Others avoid eating or drinking so they do not have to urinate.
When the containers are refrigerated it is like being in a "freezer", according to one young woman.
Around 6,430 migrants have died or disappeared en route to the United States since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Of those, 850 were the result of vehicle accidents or linked to hazardous transport, the United Nations agency says.
In December, 56 US-bound migrants from Central America were killed and dozens injured when the truck they were traveling in overturned in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
Aware of the risks, a Honduran mother who gave her name as Jenny said she refused to get in a truck in southeast Mexico with her daughters, aged eight and 14.
Instead they continued their journey without the traffickers, despite having been charged $7,500 each.
"It was like an angel saved me," said the 32-year-old, who fled gang violence in her country and hopes to be granted asylum in the United States on humanitarian grounds.
"Everyone has the right to have a chance," she said.
The US Justice Department will investigate the New York police agency that inspired the hit TV show "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," over its treatment of sexual assault victims.
Two federal prosecutors in New York announced Thursday in a joint statement that the Special Victims Department (SVD) would be investigated to determine whether it "engages in a pattern or practice of gender-biased policing."
Allegations against the agency "include failing to conduct basic investigative steps and instead shaming and abusing survivors and re-traumatizing them during investigations," the statement said.
"Victims of sex crimes deserve the same rigorous and unbiased investigations of their cases that the NYPD affords to other categories of crime," Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in the statement.
His Eastern District counterpart Breon Peace added that in recent months "we have learned concerning information from a variety of sources of historical issues about the way the Special Victims Division has conducted its investigations for many years."
The Justice Department said it plans to conduct a comprehensive review of the SVD's policies, procedures, and training for investigations of sexual assault crimes.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, who is the city's former police chief, as well as the current chief Keechant Sewell said they will cooperate with the probe.
The NYPD is the largest municipal police force in the United States with some 36,000 uniformed officers and 19,000 administrative employees.
"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is part of the wildly popular "Law & Order" TV franchise, and has been on air on NBC since 1999.
With no fewer than 23 seasons, it is the longest-running prime-time series in US TV history -- and NBC said on Wednesday that season 24 will launch in September this year.
A political analyst wrote Donald Trump's political epitaph after a week of shocking and credible revelations about his "demented" actions in the final days of his presidency, as well as the deeply unpopular decisions issued by the Supreme Court he shaped.
Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the House select committee that Trump knew his supporters were armed on Jan. 6, 2021, but wanted to join them in a march on the Capitol, and former allies began to distance themselves from the former president and Republicans cheered Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) when she denounced him at a speech at the Reagan Library, wrote Daily Beast columnist David Rothkopf.
"The first time he ran for president, he did it because he thought it would boost his brand," Rothkopf wrote. "This time he is likely to do it because he thinks it may make him more difficult to prosecute. And because he can use it to mount one last big attempt to fleece his supporters."
Trump was already looking politically weak in polls against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who seems to have Fox News on his side, and numerous legal experts have said Hutchinson's testimony advanced the Jan. 6 investigation work much closer to criminal liability for the former president.
"That is precisely why Trump may announce his campaign soon," Rothkopf wrote. "That, and of course, the ability to raise more money from supporters. The fact that he has a track record of not actually using the money he raises for the purposes he claims and that nonetheless his donors keep on giving seem like reason enough to do so given the irresistible allure scams hold for Trump. That these scams also might place him in legal jeopardy have not deterred him in the past… but may, again, contribute in the future to his lasting political demise."
Trump faces possible prosecutions in Georgia and by the Department of Justice, and Rothkopf said the challenges may be piling up too high and too fast for the twice-impeached former president to dig himself out.
"It is fair to conclude that as bad as this week was for Trump, when the dust settles, he and we will find matters have only gotten worse for him, that, as of this week, he has once and for all plummeted to Earth and that finally and forever more, all the former president’s Fox friends and all of his men will not be able to put the brief shimmering political career of Donald Trump back together again," Rothkopf wrote.