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The Brownsville driver who hit a crowd of asylum-seekers is charged with manslaughter

Brownsville Police Chief Felix Sauceda speaks at a news conference in Brownsville, Texas, on Monday.
Moises Avila
/
AFP via Getty Images
Brownsville Police Chief Felix Sauceda speaks at a news conference in Brownsville, Texas, on Monday.

Police in Texas have identified 34-year-old George Alvarez as the driver who plowed into a group of people near a migrant shelter Sunday morning.

Eight people died and 10 others were injured in the crash in Brownsville, Texas, a city of roughly 187,000 people that sits on the U.S.-Mexico border. The incident occurred around 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning at a bus stop outside the Ozanam Center.

Police initially charged Alvarez with reckless driving, but Brownsville Police Chief Felix Sauceda said Monday morning that authorities have also charged him with eight counts of manslaughter and 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

"Through the investigation, it was found that the SUV ran a red light, lost control, flipped on its side and struck a total of 18 individuals," he said.

Sauceda said authorities were not ruling out the possibility that the crash was intentional, and noted that police were waiting on toxicology results to determine if Alvarez was impaired.

Alvarez, a Brownsville local who Sauceda said has an "extensive rap sheet," apparently tried to flee after hitting the group but was held down by several bystanders. Alvarez has not been cooperating with investigators, the chief added.

All the victims were male and at least some of them were from Venezuela, Sauceda said.

The victims were seeking asylum in the U.S., a local aid worker says

Victor Maldonado, executive director of the Ozanam Center, said in an email Monday morning that those killed and injured were asylum-seekers.

"They came seeking refuge. They were staying at our shelter because they arrived in this country with very little," Maldonado said.

"It's unclear what led to this tragedy but we do know that the victims who were taken to the hospital will need help in the days to come dealing with the horrific event, as will the families of those killed," he added.

People can seek asylum in the U.S. if they fear they could be persecuted in their home country for social characteristics such as their race, religion or political opinion, according to Refugee Council USA.

Maldonado said the shelter had already received "a number of hate messages" and that its primary focus now is to provide counseling to witnesses and survivors, including children.

Immigration policy is in the news ahead of the expiration of Title 42

On Monday morning, one day after the crash, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference to discuss what the state was doing to reduce illegal immigration across its border with Mexico.

Abbott also criticized the Biden administration's immigration policies, including the upcoming expiration of Title 42.

That policy, which is set to end this week, is a public health measure tied to the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed the government to turn away asylum-seekers at the southern border.

Responding to a question from a reporter on the deadly incident in Brownsville, Abbott said local officials told him they expected to release more information on Monday about whether the motorist intentionally drove into the victims. Abbott's appearance occurred before the press conference in Brownsville.

Abbott was criticized just over a week ago for referring to the five victims of a recent mass shooting in Texas as "illegal immigrants," though a spokesperson later walked the comments back, saying "[w]e regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal."

The incident has shaken the border city of Brownsville

A community mass was held Sunday near where the crash took place, and two vigils were also planned for Monday, Texas Public Radio reported.

"I cannot describe the heartache I feel at hearing the news from this morning, not just as an advocate for the rights of migrants, but as a resident of Brownsville," Rochelle Garza, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a tweet on Sunday.

Daniel E. Flores, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, said the Ozanam Center had served immigrants and the homeless for decades and that the diocese would continue to care for people who have been given permission by the government to stay in the U.S.

"We must resist the corrosive tendency to devalue the lives of immigrants, the poor, and the vulnerable," Flores said in a statement. "Let us take extra steps as a local community to care for and protect one another, especially the most vulnerable."

The Ozanam Center is located five miles from migrant encampments in Matamoros, Mexico.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez

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