Federal prosecutors say four Mexican nationals have been arrested in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants found abandoned last year inside a locked tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas.

The four arrests, announced Tuesday, include Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, 30; Felipe Orduna-Torres, 28; Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal, 37; and Armando Gonzales-Ortega, 53. The men were apprehended in San Antonio, Houston and Marshall, Texas. 

All four are charged with conspiracy to transport immigrants resulting in death, serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy. If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“Today’s announcement is another important step in our unprecedented effort against smugglers,” said Alejandro N. Mayorkas, U.S. secretary of Homeland Security. “Human smugglers will do anything to turn a profit, and Homeland Security will continue to do everything possible to stop them.”

The incident was the deadliest migrant smuggling incident in U.S. history, according to federal officials. 

“One year ago today, an unthinkable crime perpetrated by human smugglers at our southern border caused the death of 53 human beings,” Lisa O. Monaco, U.S. deputy attorney general, said in a statement. “Today’s arrests demonstrate that those who seek to profit from desperation will be brought to justice.”

On June 28, 2022, San Antonio police were alerted to an abandoned tractor-trailer on the rural edge of the city. Authorities found 48 migrants dead inside the sweltering trailer on a day when temperatures rose to 103 degrees. Sixteen people were transported to local hospitals, where five more died.

Among the victims were eight children and one pregnant woman.

The indictment alleges that in the days leading up to June 27, 2022, Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres and others exchanged the names of undocumented individuals who would be smuggled in the tractor-trailer.

Once the migrants were loaded into the trailer to be smuggled, Martinez, Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres, Rivera-Leal and Gonzales-Ortega allegedly coordinated, facilitated, passed messages and kept each other updated on the tractor-trailer’s progress.

Some of the defendants charged were allegedly aware that the trailer’s air-conditioning unit was malfunctioning and would not blow any cool air to the migrants inside, federal authorities said.

The tractor-trailer’s alleged driver, Homero Zamorano Jr., was arrested when authorities arrived at the scene and found him hiding in the brush near the truck. Zamorano is also facing a maximum penalty of  life in prison if convicted.

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