Texas police have arrested a truck driver whose vehicle was found in a Walmart car park in San Antonio with dozens of people in the back of it.
Nine men had died inside, and 28 others, including children, were taken to hospital.
They were inside the trailer in San Antonio without access to air conditioning or water while outside temperatures hit 110F.
Police say they believe the incident is linked to people smuggling.
The truck’s driver, named by authorities as 60-year-old James Mathew Bradley Jr. from Clearwater, Florida, is expected to appear in court later.
Video footage from Walmart reportedly showed a number of vehicles arriving to pick up some of the survivors. Several others may have managed to escape on foot into the woods nearby.
One person found in the woods was being treated, local officials said.
Image source AP
Mexico’s government said it was working closely with US authorities to identify the nationalities of the victims.
San Antonio is a few hours’ drive from the border with Mexico, and the US immigration department is trying to establish the victims’ legal status.
Eight people were found to be dead at the scene while another died in hospital, immigration officials said.
Officials were brought to the trailer by a man who had approached an employee of the Walmart and asked for water.
The driver would be charged in connection with the “horrible tragedy”, said San Antonio police chief William McManus in a press briefing.
He said the people ranged from school age to in their 30s.
Local fire chief Charles Hood said the survivors had heart rates of over 130 beats per minute and were very hot to touch. In addition to the 20 people in a critical condition, eight others were taken to hospital in a less severe state.
The fire chief confirmed at least two of the victims were school-age children. Their condition is not clear.
“We’re very fortunate that there weren’t 38 of these people who were all locked inside this vehicle dead,” he added.
Richard Durbin, the US attorney for the Western District of Texas, said the authorities were working to identify those responsible for the incident.
“These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters. Imagine their suffering, trapped in a stifling trailer in 100-plus degree heat,” he said in a statement.
They were victims of “ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the wellbeing of their fragile cargo”, Richard Durbin added.
According to Global Slavery Index 2013 – ranking 162 countries – nearly 30 million people around the world are living as slaves.
The index says India has the highest number of people living in conditions of slavery at nearly 14 million.
However, Mauritania has the highest proportional figure with about 4% of its population enslaved.
The report’s authors hope it will help governments tackle what they call a “hidden crime”.
Nearly 30 million people around the world are living as slaves
The index was compiled by Australian-based rights organization Walk Free Foundation (WFF) using a definition of modern slavery that includes debt bondage, forced marriage and human trafficking.
“A lot of governments won’t like hearing what we have to say,” WFF chief executive Nick Grono told AFP news agency.
“Those governments that want to engage with us, we will be very open to engaging and looking at ways in which we can better measure the issue of modern slavery.”
The organization’s estimate of 29.8 million slaves worldwide is higher than other attempts to quantify modern slavery. The International Labour Organization estimates that almost 21 million people are victims of forced labor.
India, China, Pakistan and Nigeria have the highest numbers of people enslaved, the charity said.
Together with five other countries, they account for three-quarters of the total estimated number of people in modern slavery worldwide.
The report said India’s ranking was mostly due to the exploitation of Indians citizens within the country itself.
While the highest proportion of slaves is in Mauritania, with many people inheriting slave status from their ancestors, Haiti is second in the index and Pakistan is third.
The new survey has the backing of world figures including former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ex-British PM Tony Blair.
Hillary Clinton said that although the index was not perfect, it provided a starting point, according to the Associated Press.
“I urge leaders around the world to view this index as a call to action, and to stay focused on the work of responding to this crime.”
Saudi Princess Meshael Alayban has been arrested in California and accused of human trafficking.
Meshael Alayban, 42, is accused of forcing a Kenyan woman to work 16 hours a day while paying her far less than what she was originally promised.
Authorities say Meshael Alayban took the woman’s passport, precluding her escape. Her lawyer called the case a dispute over work hours.
In November, California voters toughened human trafficking penalties.
If convicted, Meshael Alayban faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison, double the punishment prescribed before voters approved the law known as Proposition 35.
Prosecutors say she is one of six wives of Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a scion of the Saudi royal family.
The unnamed Kenyan woman had begun working for Meshael Alayban last year in Saudi Arabia under a two-year contract with an employment agency.
Meshael Alayban, 42, is accused of forcing a Kenyan woman to work 16 hours a day while paying her far less than what she was originally promised
That contract guaranteed her $1,600 a month for eight-hour work days, five days a week, California officials said. Instead she was paid $220 a month and forced to work twice as long, according to prosecutors.
The 30-year-old Kenyan woman also alleges her passport was taken from her when she arrived in Saudi Arabia. It was only returned to her long enough for her to travel to the US with Meshael Alayban.
In California, she said she was forced to perform household chores for at least eight people in four units at the same block of flats where she was allegedly held captive. When she managed to escape, she flagged down a bus driver and later went to police.
Meshael Alayban was arrested on Wednesday.
“My client was a slave to this woman,” said Steve Barick, a lawyer for the accuser.
“She wasn’t able to freely move about. She had her ability to move in and about the country taken away. She was intimidated. She was promised one thing when she was in another country and when she was brought here that was changed. She was overworked. She was underpaid.”
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas described the accuser’s situation as “an example of forced labor.”
“It’s been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, so slavery has been illegal in the United States and certainly in California all this time,” he said.
“It’s disappointing to see it in use here.”
Meshael Alayban did not enter a plea in her first court appearance on Thursday. She was released on $5 million bail shortly after the hearing but was ordered to surrender her passport and to wear a GPS tracking device.
Prosecutors had asked a judge for bail to be set at $20 million or denied entirely, given Meshael Alayban’s wealth.
Saud bin Nasser Al Shahry is a Saudi father who is trying to sell his son on Facebook for around $20 million.
The father claims he is selling his son to avoid “living in poverty” after his illegal business was shut down, it was reported today.
Saud bin Nasser Al Shahry also claims trafficking his son is the only option to continue providing for his wife and daughter.
The father says he is willing to go to court to complete the sale, the only condition of which is to know which city the buyer lives in.
Saud bin Nasser Al Shahry made the decision after first asking whether the authorities could help him financially when his illegal debt-collection business was shut down by a court, he told Qatari news outlet Al Sharq.
He was apparently denied the request because he was older than 35.
It is not clear whether his actions are merely a publicity stunt or, if genuine, whether he would be able to carry out the sale without redress.
Saud bin Nasser Al Shahry claims he is selling his son to avoid “living in poverty” after his illegal business was shut down
Human trafficking is an offence in Saudi Arabia, but the country does not comply with minimum international standards, according to the U.S. Department of State.
In recent reports, quoted in Venture Beat, it said the Saudi government “continues to lack adequate anti-trafficking laws, and, despite evidence of widespread trafficking abuses, did not report any criminal prosecutions, convictions or prison sentences for trafficking crimes committed against foreign domestic workers.”
Facebook is also unlikely to allow such a sale through its website.
According to Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, users “will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law”.
Around half of all Saudi children face domestic violence or some kind of abuse, it is claimed by a Saudi Arabian human rights group, The National Society for Human Rights.