SAN ANTONIO – Authorities said Tuesday that 22 survivors of a semitrailer found outside a San Antonio Walmart packed with immigrants are no longer needed to testify and being turned over to immigration authorities.
Ten people died in the alleged human smuggling operation discovered in July, and the driver of the truck faces a five-count indictment and the possibility of the death penalty.
The U.S. attorney's office in San Antonio announced Tuesday that it was dismissing the 22 survivors as witnesses and canceling depositions it had scheduled for them in the case against James Matthew Bradley Jr. Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, declined to comment on whether the survivors will face deportation.
Attorneys who have been representing the survivors either did not respond to messages for comment or said they don't yet know what will happen to them.
Nuria Olascoaga Rosas, a spokeswoman for the Mexican consulate in San Antonio, said the consulate was only informed that each person's case will be examined individually by an immigration court.
At least 39 people had been packed inside the semitrailer, most of them Mexicans who had crossed the United States' southern border. The trailer's cooling system was broken, and witnesses told authorities and The Associated Press that they fought to breathe and tried in vain to get the trailer to stop as it headed north.
Eight people were found dead inside, and another two died after being hospitalized.
According to a criminal complaint released in July, Bradley denied knowing anyone was inside the trailer. He told investigators that the trailer had been sold and he was transporting it for his boss from Iowa to Brownsville, Texas. But he said he had driven to Laredo, Texas, and stopped twice there before driving back to San Antonio, in the opposite direction from Brownsville.
The five-count indictment against Bradley includes one count of illegally transporting immigrants for financial gain, resulting in death, and a separate count of conspiracy to transport immigrants illegally, resulting in death. Both counts are punishable by the death penalty.
Authorities have said they are investigating Bradley's case as part of a broader operation to organize and fund the movement of people illegally across the United States' southern border.
Attorneys for Bradley declined to comment Tuesday.