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Justice in Exile

At Texas Observer Forum Mexicans who fled violence say government corruption the biggest threat in Mexico.
by Published on
Jen Reel
El Paso native Carlos Spector is an attorney with a long history of representing Mexican political asylum cases. He also helped create the nonprofit organization, Mexicans in Exile.

Mexico’s drug war is often presented in the Mexican and U.S. media as a battle among government forces and the drug cartels. Seldom do we hear about the deep and systemic corruption of Mexican officials that allows the violence to flourish. Four members of a recently formed nonprofit in El Paso called Mexicans in Exile said Wednesday night they were forced to flee their country because of government corruption.

The panelists—Saul and Jorge Reyes Salazar, Juan Fraire Escobedo and Cipriana Jurado—told their harrowing stories at The Texas Observer’s forum “Government Persecution, Human Rights and Mexico’s Drug War” on Wednesday night at the Texas Hillel Center in Austin. Their El Paso attorney Carlos Spector spoke about winning political asylum for the exiles and the nonprofit group’s goal to build civil society in Mexico and to seek justice for victims of the violence.

More than 100 people attended the event, including several human rights attorneys, immigration attorneys, members of the Mexican Diaspora and community activists. 

Hear a complete audio recording of the public panel.

Juan Fraire Escobedo lost his mother and 16-year-old sister Rubi to the violence. His mother Marisela Escobedo was shot and killed December 16, 2010, on the steps of the Chihuahua State Capitol where she was holding a vigil to bring her daughter’s killer to justice. Escobedo said government authorities refused to help his family even after Rubi’s former boyfriend confessed to killing her. “We had to start our own investigation,” Escobedo said. Through sheer persistence they found Rubi’s killer in the State of Zacatecas and located her partial remains. Meanwhile, his sister’s killer had joined the Zetas drug cartel, which runs the State of Zacatecas. “We went to the chief of the federal police in Mexico City, and he told us ‘he’s with the Zetas. We can’t do anything.’”

Marisela and her family didn’t give up. She began a vigil for justice in front of the Chihuahua State Capitol building where she was ultimately killed. “It was easier for them to kill my mother than go against the cartel,” Juan Escobedo said at the forum.

Saul and Jorge Reyes Salazar spoke about the loss of six family members murdered between 2008- 2011. The Observer told the tragic story in its March issue of what happened to the Reyes Salazar Family, well-known community activists in the Juarez Valley region 50 miles east of Ciudad Juarez. “I am the last male sibling in my family,” Saul told the forum audience. “We lost everything, our homes, our family members and our country.”

Jorge, 19, talked about when the military was sent in 2008 to their small farming community and the murders skyrocketed. “It wasn’t a war against drug trafficking but against civil society,” he said.

Cipriana Jurado, a human rights activist from Juarez, talked about her work for economic justice for maquiladora workers and the battle to stop the murders of thousands of women in Juarez. Jurado protested the militarization of her hometown in 2008. She received death threats—at least 21 human rights activists have been killed in the State of Chihuahua since 2008. Ultimately, Jurado gained asylum in the United States in 2011.

Attorney Carlos Spector—who has won several notable asylum cases including those of Saul Reyes Salazar and Cipriana Jurado—said the goal of Mexicans in Exile is to apply political pressure on Mexico from the United States. They are seeking justice in the Escobedo case by protesting in front of Mexican consulates and pressuring Mexican state prosecutors to investigate the murders. “Marisela wanted justice, and she didn’t let it go, and for that she was killed,” Spector said.

“They made us flee our country like criminals,” Escobedo said. “They think we are going to stay quiet, but we are going to continue to demand justice.”

Click into the following slideshow to view images from the public forum.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.