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Unspeakable tragedy came to San Antonio this week with the deaths of over 50 migrants in a semi-trailer truck. This horrific incident shook all of us to our core, especially those of us who work each day to welcome immigrants to our state and support them through their legal processes.

While this news devastated me and my colleagues at American Gateways, it did not surprise us. The illegal movement of people for profit and modern-day slavery is more rampant in our state than you might realize. This is not the first time we have seen people fleeing persecution and seeking a better life killed in such a gut-wrenching manner, and it all comes back to our immigration policies.

It’s long past time for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level and sets of state laws and policies that are more welcoming and based in common sense.

Militarized border policies enacted by state and federal leaders, coupled with the federal government’s ongoing failure to implement humane and comprehensive immigration reform, play a direct role in forcing those seeking safety into taking more dangerous routes to reach this country.

A country is entitled to set up processes to screen and manage the arrival of newcomers, but spending billions of dollars on technology and armed forces along our southern border is inhumane and is not a real solution. A straight line runs from the rhetoric that has villainized outsiders to the massacre in El Paso and to the policies that led to this week’s tragedy in San Antonio.

Across the globe, and across time, a fundamental human trait is the desire to move in search of opportunity and safety. And study after study points to the economic and social benefits of immigrants in our state. We can either build a safe, fair and organized system that acknowledges this reality–and our country and state’s long traditions of welcoming migrants– or we can ignore it. If our leaders continue to do the latter, tragedies like the one we saw this week will continue.

What does it do to our international reputation when we allow repeated atrocities like the one we saw this week? And where do we go from here?

For now, American Gateways is working closely with San Antonio officials, the Mexican Consulate, federal officials and community partners to support the survivors of this tragedy in any way that we can.

When appropriate, our staff will be providing legal information and consultations to the victims of this week’s tragedy. During these visits, we will discuss their rights and possible forms of immigration relief that may be available so that each individual can make informed decisions about how they want to move forward.

Special protections exist for people who have been victims of crimes and human trafficking. These safeguards are meant to protect people who might be afraid to testify about a crime they experience or witness. The ability of witnesses and crime victims to come forward freely keeps all of our communities safer.

We are heartened by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the administration to end the dangerous and inhumane Migrant Protection Protocols, or “remain in Mexico,” policy. Giving individuals access to their right to apply for protection in the US, instead of blocking and criminally prosecuting them, is part of how we can begin to create a better immigration system. One that recognizes the humanity of those seeking refuge.

Our organization has been supporting immigrants including victims of trafficking and violence for over 30 years. In the aftermath of this tragedy, we are humbled to be able to offer our support to these victims. Let these people not die in vain. Let’s use the voices we all have to demand better.

Edna Yang is co-Executive Director of American Gateways, a nonprofit organization that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees. She lives in Austin. [See this commentary in the San Antonio Report]

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