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A Mexican town learned that 3 local cousins died in the San Antonio smuggling tragedy

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For many of the families of the migrants who died after being transported in a sweltering trailer in San Antonio, Texas, the past week has been agonizing. Authorities have urged patience as they scramble to identify the 53 victims of what is being called one of the worst human smuggling tragedies on U.S. soil. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, this weekend, relatives of three young men from a small town in Mexico finally learned the heartbreaking news.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTOR RUNNING)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Pickup trucks loaded with freshly cut firewood gun it up the steep road in front of Bilbano Olivares' home in this small town tucked into the lush mountains in Mexico's gulf state of Veracruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOGS DROPPING)

KAHN: Men dump the logs beside a black tarp, shielding the steady stream of mourners who've come to pay their respects.

We need a lot of wood for cooking to feed everyone, says Olivares.

BILBANO OLIVARES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Here, everyone shares in the suffering of the families," he says. Olivares' three grandchildren - brothers Yovani, 16, and Jair, 20, as well as their cousin Miseal, also 16 - were all in the Texas trailer. Authorities last week notified relatives that Miseal had been found dead. On Saturday, Olivares says authorities summoned the family to the capital, an hour ride down the mountain.

B OLIVARES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Even then, we were still holding out hope they were alive," he said. "But, no."

His daughter, Yolanda Olivares, says at least now she knows her boys are with God.

YOLANDA OLIVARES: (Through interpreter) I'm sad right now, but a lot more calm. Now I know they're no longer suffering, alone in a hospital bed, fighting for their lives, not knowing where they were. It's all been such a nightmare.

KAHN: Olivares stares forward, her eyes puffy from days of crying and no sleep. She sits on the small stoop of her modest house. Inside, the front room is filled with pictures of her boys and burning candles.

Y OLIVARES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Life here is hard," she says. It's a small town, known in this region for making shoes. Like most everyone here, her sons cut leather, fitted soles and sewed shoes in small workshops. Pay isn't much, at most 50 pesos a pair. One makes about $50 U.S. a week. That's if you sew fast.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

KAHN: Bells summon residents who trickle down the town's dirt paths and steep streets onto the church's central square for evening mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SINGING)

KAHN: The crowd fills the simple wooden pews.

ANDRES HERNANDEZ SOLANO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Father Andres Hernandez Solano reads the names of the three who perished.

SOLANO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He tells me it's hard to find the words to console his parishioners. He says so many have migrated recently. Several told me as many as 50 have left the town in recent months. Father Hernandez says before leaving, young men ask for his blessing. He begs them not to go, but he says Mexicans are hard workers and yearn to get ahead.

SOLANO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: And the United States takes advantage of the cheap labor, he says, so why not have a more humane immigration policy - give these boys temporary visas to go work and be able to come back home alive?

Outside the boys' home, dozens of women slap out tortillas and serve up bean soup to mourners still coming by. One of the boys' uncle, Mateo Ruiz, says it's hard to convince the town's young men not to migrate. The lure of dollars is strong.

MATEO RUIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Many might not migrate for a while now because of the tragedy, he says, but soon they'll head north again. He actually worked in Chicago for a few years and hears from relatives that there's a lot of work and money to be made in the U.S. now.

RUIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's tempting - makes you think about going again and working for a bit," he says.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, San Marcos Atexquilapan, Veracruz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.