The death of migrants found in San Antonio is the latest human trafficking tragedy, but will not be the last


HOUSTON, Texas — Monday night’s grisly discovery on a lonely road on the southwest side of San Antonio is just the latest human trafficking tragedy.

Few people can understand the risk, and Juan Esteban Montoya is one of them.

The 23-year-old met ABC13 at his lawyer’s office near NRG Park on Tuesday afternoon. He said the footage of San Antonio from the tractor-trailer where dozens of bodies were found was difficult for him to watch.

Juan Esteban Montoya’s trip from Colombia to the United States was not done on the back of an 18-wheeler, but rather by boat in January. He is the sole survivor of the boat capsizing off the coast of Florida. A photo shows him clinging to the ship alone after four days at sea. About 40 people died, including his younger sister, Maria Camila Montoya.

“It was very painful to see my sister die,” he said through his lawyer, Naimeh Salem, who translated.

The siblings were supposed to reunite with their mother in Houston. It took them a year to save $13,000 to pay the smugglers. They took a boat from the Bahamas because they were told it was safer, he said.

“It happens more than people realize,” Salem translated for Montoya. “These big events that people know about, but every day someone dies in the desert or in the water because the smugglers have no heart (the smugglers) just take advantage of them.”

At least 650 people died in 2021 crossing the US-Mexico border, according to the United Nations.

And 19 years ago it was on the side of the road in Victoria where 19 people died locked in a suffocating caravan, 51 others survived. Mary Rose Garcia, who worked in an emergency room in Victoria, witnessed the injured who survived.

“You don’t forget something like that. You don’t forget it,” Garcia told ABC13. “They just want to get here and have a better life. Some of them make it and some don’t. It’s sad but true.”

Juan Esteban Montoya, who hopes to gain legal status, he and his sister knew the risk, but a better life was worth it. Despite the grief, he says the future still looks good.

For more on this story, follow Jessica Willey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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