Smuggling survivors held in federal detention facility

Former federal prosecutor represents 13 victims

SAN ANTONIO – Many of the victims of Sunday’s deadly smuggling operation, who have gone from the back of a stifling tractor-trailer rig to various hospitals, are now in a federal detention facility downtown.

Michael McCrum, a former federal prosecutor in San Antonio and a leading criminal defense attorney, is representing 13 of the immigrants, some of whom remain hospitalized.

He said being put in cells after what they endured only adds to their trauma.

“They don’t understand it,” McCrum said. “It’s hard to understand why they are being held in a jail cell when they’re not being charged with any crime.”

Because they are undocumented, McCrum said, the federal government has to detain them “so they can be available as witnesses.”

“Otherwise, they’ll just go back to their home country and they’ll never be able to cooperate with the authorities in the United States," said Gerardo Menchaca, a local immigration attorney.

Menchaca said he is working to help the families of two of the victims obtain a visa to temporarily enter the country for humanitarian reasons so they can to visit their loved ones, several of whom remain gravely ill. He said another option would be for them to go to the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate in their home country to apply.

"Getting a visa can take three to four months and some of the people in this terrible tragedy may not be alive in three or four months," Menchaca said.

The Mexican Consulate in San Antonio is also providing attorneys and staff to try to expedite matters.

Menchaca said immigrant victims of crime can also apply for the U-Visa for themselves and, if needed, for their spouses, children and parents.

“The U-Visa allows immigrants to stay in the U.S. and cooperate with a criminal investigation and prosecution,” Menchaca said.

McCrum said his clients, who are mostly men and a few women, will be giving video depositions as to what their testimony will be.

McCrum, who was a federal prosecutor in San Antonio for 11 years, said he is working to get his clients released to any family members they may have in the U.S.

“I don’t know how quickly we can do that, but as far as I’m concerned, now is not fast enough,” McCrum said.

Both McCrum and Menchaca agree the current political climate could make it difficult for these victims and their families.

“They’re shocked this happened to them,” McCrum said. “But it’s just a reflection of the dire situation that they’re in back home.”



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About the Author:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.