Aaron Mendez, director of a migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo.
Aaron Mendez, director of a migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo, photographed on July 29, 2019. (Gus Bova)

Nuevo Laredo Shelter Director Reportedly Kidnapped After Protecting Cuban Migrants

In the city where Trump is stranding hundreds of asylum seekers under the policies known as 'Remain in Mexico' and 'metering,' Aarón Méndez has disappeared.


On August 3, Aarón Méndez, the director of a migrant shelter in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, was kidnapped by members of organized crime while defending asylum-seekers at his refuge, according to numerous media accounts and two sources familiar with the situation. Criminals arrived at the shelter to kidnap some Cuban migrants and demand ransom from their families; Méndez was taken after refusing to hand the Cubans over, according to one of Méndez’s colleagues at the shelter, as reported by the Spanish wire service Agencia EFE.

Calls to Méndez’ shelter were not answered over the weekend, but a source familiar with the situation—who did not wish to be named out of fear of retaliation—told the Observer that the shelter has not been contacted with any information about Méndez. “There’s a lot of uncertainty; it’s been a week and no one knows anything,” the source said. EFE reported the same.

Five days before the reported kidnapping, the Observer interviewed Méndez as part of a story about the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the Trump administration policy under which nearly 30,000 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico to await court dates months in the future. The policy expanded to Nuevo Laredo last month. In Nuevo Laredo and towns all along the border, asylum seekers were already being forced to wait months in order to apply for asylum properly at the bridges, thanks to a separate policy known as “metering.” The Observer could not immediately confirm whether the Cubans Méndez was protecting at his shelter were waiting under metering, had been returned under MPP, or something else. Méndez told the Observer on July 29 that the shelters in Nuevo Laredo were generally not taking migrants under MPP due to capacity issues.

Méndez last responded to a message from the Observer on WhatsApp on August 1, and the application shows he was last active at 1:40 p.m. on August 3, the day he was reportedly kidnapped.

Migrants returning to Nuevo Laredo under the Migrant Protection Protocols.
Migrants returning to Nuevo Laredo under the Migrant Protection Protocols.  Gus Bova

The reported kidnapping is further evidence of the crime and unsafe conditions that asylum seekers and their advocates have been complaining about in Nuevo Laredo and other border cities. Doctors Without Borders, which works along the border, recently said that “asylum seekers in Nuevo Laredo are constantly exposed to robbery, assault, extortion, kidnapping, and homicide.” According to Human Rights First, there have been more than 110 publicly reported cases of violent crimes against asylum seekers returned to Mexico under MPP, since the policy began in January.

In a tweet Saturday that appears to have since been deleted, a migrant shelter in Saltillo directed a demand at Mexico’s president to see Méndez alive. On Friday, after the news first broke, Mexican Senator Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria said the situation was “of the utmost seriousness” and called on the state and federal governments to provide more information. A spokesperson for the Mayor of Nuevo Laredo did not immediately respond to an Observer request for comment.