El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector represents more than 100 families who have fled violence in Mexico. Many were forced to flee while investigating the disappearances of their loved ones by the military or law enforcement.
In Mexico, 98 percent of murder cases are never investigated or solved by the authorities. Even fewer cases are investigated when the disappearances or murders are linked to soldiers or law enforcement. Families who investigate on their own often risk their lives.
This was the case for the Alvarado Espinoza family from the small town of San Buenaventura 170 miles south of Juarez. On December 29, 2009, Mexican soldiers forced 32-year-old Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza and her cousin Jose Angel Alvarado into a military vehicle. Another cousin Rocio Irene Alvarado was also picked up the same day, according to a petition filed with the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Their families haven’t seen them since and the Mexican military won’t provide any answers. So the family took it upon themselves to investigate the disappearances. But soon they began to receive death threats. Ultimately, they were forced to flee to the United States and seek political asylum.
Seeking justice in Mexico from the United States adds another layer of difficulty and frustration for families in exile. The three daughters of the disappeared Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza—18-year-old twins Mitzi and Nitza and fifteen-year-old Deisy who now live in the United States—formed a group called Hijos de Desaparecidos (children of the disappeared) to pressure Mexican officials to investigate the disappearance of their mother and countless others. The Mexican government estimates there are as many as 27,000 disappeared in Mexico since the drug war violence began in 2006. But many Mexican activists suspect the number is much higher since most families are too scared and distrustful of the authorities to report disappearances.
So it was a significant event last week when a Mexican federal law enforcement official, Salomon Baltazar, came to El Paso to meet with relatives of missing men and women. Baltazar was appointed in 2013 as the head of the newly-formed Special Unit to Search for Disappeared Persons within Mexico’s Attorney General’s office. For the first time, Baltazar traveled to the United States to take complaints and testimony from the Alvarado Espinoza family and other exiles searching for missing relatives. During a short press conference at the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Baltazar said officials in Mexico were committed to investigating the missing persons cases. Baltazar’s meetings with the families were private. But Carlos Spector said another high-ranking Mexican human rights official, Ricardo Garcia Cervantes, also attended the meetings in El Paso and was visibly moved by the testimonies of the families. “He was the most vocal in pledging to do something about the disappearances,” Spector said.
Three days later, however, Mexico’s attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam announced that Garcia Cervantes would be resigning from his post. “Garcia Cervantes was the most open to doing something,” says Spector. “It seems odd he would leave his post three days later, which makes you wonder if he was fired and if so, why?”
Spector and the nonprofit group Mexicanos en Exilio, as well as Mexico’s Women’s Center for Human Rights, were instrumental in persuading the Mexican officials to come to the United States. The next step for Spector and Mexicanos en Exilio is to persuade Mexican congressional members to hold a hearing in El Paso on the murders and disappearances as well as the numerous properties and businesses lost by people now living in exile. More than anything families want justice and they want closure after years of searching for missing loved ones. “So far there’s been symbolic gestures, which is a positive step,” Spector said of Mexican government officials. “But it’s not enough.”
(UPDATE: On May 31, Ricardo Garcia Cervantes told the Mexican magazine Proceso that he chose to resign and was not pushed out by the Peña Nieto administration. Garcia Cervantes said he left because Peña Nieto’s administration was giving less priority to investigating the thousands of disappearances throughout the country, and that he could no longer bear the sorrow of so many families whose cases were not being investigated by the human rights agency.)