He Crossed The Border In A Packed, Unventilated Trailer And Survived Brandon Martinez. 16, was one of nearly 40 undocumented immigrants found in a trailer in San Antonio. His father laments that his son suffered so much to cross the border, just like he did.

He Crossed The Border In A Packed, Unventilated Trailer And Survived

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

An update now - last month, an unventilated tractor trailer smuggling migrants across the border in San Antonio became a death trap. Ten people died from the heat. Late yesterday, a federal grand jury indicted the driver, James Bradley Jr. - indicted him on five counts, including transportation of undocumented aliens for financial gain resulting in death. Two of the migrants remain hospitalized. NPR's John Burnett has the story of one young man who barely survived.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Here's the hospital scene. Sixteen-year-old Brandon Martinez is lying comatose in the ICU. Wet washcloths cover his bare skin in an attempt to cool off his body that almost cooked to death. The immigrants were trying to breathe in the unventilated trailer on a blistering summer day. His father, Jose de Jesus Martinez, a Colorado landscaper who's in the country illegally, is at his bedside weeping and stroking his son. What happens next illustrates the fraught atmosphere between undocumented immigrants and federal immigration agents these days.

JOSE DE JESUS MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: The father says, "Brandon was being moved to another hospital room when several agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement walked in. They asked me in an aggressive manner - who was I, and what was I doing there?"

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: Martinez says several nurses formed a human wall between him and the officers. Martinez's lawyer was there, too. He had feared this exact scenario - that the hospital would be crawling with immigration agents. Martinez was terrified. In the current climate, unauthorized immigrants expect ICE to use any pretext to arrest and deport them. Attorney Alex Galvez says he stood with the nurses who confronted the agents.

ALEX GALVEZ: The nurses started raising their voices saying, look, this is not the right place where this should be happening. Go outside. Take it outside. We've got sick kids inside.

BURNETT: North Central Baptist Hospital declined to confirm or deny what happened, citing patient confidentiality. ICE gives a different account of what happened in the pediatric ICU.

SHANE FOLDEN: Even though it was a hectic situation, the agents certainly remained calm at all times. And there was certainly no yelling.

BURNETT: Shane Folden is special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, which is leading the probe into what's being called el camion de la muerte, the truck of death. He says his agents were there to protect witnesses, and they had no idea Martinez was the father.

FOLDEN: Agents don't know who those individuals were. They could have been members of the smuggling network trying to abscond with cellphones or other evidence.

BURNETT: The father and the lawyer say the agents eventually calmed down. In fact, they say ICE officers apologized to Martinez and said they were praying for Brandon's recovery. ICE's Shane Folden allows...

FOLDEN: They certainly may have apologized.

BURNETT: Brandon Martinez has, by all accounts, made a remarkable recovery. He's been discharged from the hospital and is now living at a federal shelter with three other juveniles who survived the smuggling ordeal. In all, the government is holding 22 of the smuggling victims as material witnesses against the driver. Later on, they could be deported or qualify for special visas for victims of crime.

In recent weeks, ICE has started to aggressively arrest parents and relatives who paid smugglers to bring their kids here. They cite the San Antonio case as an example of how ruthless these smuggling networks are. Jose de Jesus Martinez insists he did not pay his son's $7,000 smuggling fee. He claims he didn't even know Brandon was traveling up from Aguascalientes, Mexico, to Denver, where the dad lives.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: "He knew how I suffered when I came up," the father says. He went on to describe his own smuggling nightmare, how the coyote who was paid to take him and other migrants across the border held them in a hotel and extorted them for more money.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: Martinez says the coyote left them in the Rio Grande Valley, where they walked for three days and three nights and ran out of water. He says he injured his feet so badly that it took him a month to recover. The father concludes, "my son knew how much I suffered, but he didn't want to listen."

John Burnett, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAX TAILOR'S "THE ROAD IS RUFF (FEAT. LEE FIELDS)")

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