Simple advice from a friend to stay near the door may have saved Yenifer Yulisa Cardona Tomás from the deadly fate that befell 53 other migrants when they were abandoned, trapped in a sweltering semi-trailer last week on the edge of San Antonio, the Associated Press reports. She said smugglers confiscated their cellphones and covered the trailer’s floor with what she believes was powdered chicken bouillon, apparently to throw off dogs at checkpoints. As she sat stuffed inside the stifling trailer with dozens of others, the powder stung her skin. Remembering her friend’s caution to stay near the door where it would be cooler, Cardona Tomás shared the advice with another friend she made during the journey. She said someone in the cab yelled back that “we were about to arrive, that there were 20 minutes left, six minutes.” The truck would continue stopping occasionally, but just before she lost consciousness, it was moving slowly. She woke up in the hospital. The driver and three others were arrested and charged by U.S. prosecutors. Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry has said that 20 Guatemalans died in the incident, 16 of whom have been positively identified.
Cardona Tomás said the truck’s destination that day was Houston, though she was ultimately headed to North Carolina. “She didn’t have a job and asked me if I would support her” in migrating to the U.S., said her father, Mynor Cordóna, in Guatemala City, where the family lives. He knew of other cases of children who just left without telling their families and ended up disappearing or dying so he decided to help her. He paid $4,000 for a smuggler — less than half the total cost — to take her to the U.S. She left Guatemala on May 30, traveling in cars, buses and finally the semi-trailer in Texas. Cordóna had stayed in touch with his daughter up until the morning of June 27. Her last message to him that day said, “We’re going to go in an hour.” It was not until late that night that Cardona Tomás’ family learned of the abandoned trailer. It was two more days before relatives in the U.S. confirmed that she was alive and hospitalized.