October 17, 2008

On the Trail of the Disappeared

Searching for Immigrants Who Went Missing in Mexico

By Jorge Morales Almada

Two years after she left El Progreso, a small community in Yoro, Honduras, the remains of Martha Lidia Zúñiga were found in the Arizona desert. During that time her family lived in uncertainty. They hadn’t heard anything from her since she left for the north. She was lost. She disappeared. Until one day they got the news they had always feared: she was dead.

There are many disappearances like that of Martha Lidia. The Honduran Consulate in Los Angeles receives frequent reports from families who say they can’t find their son, daughter, husband, wife, cousin, nephew, etc. who left Honduras to go north but lost their way.

“Unfortunately it is more common than you would think,” said Honduran Consul Vivian Panting. “Every day we receive reports of family members who came in 2001 or 2002 and haven’t heard from them.”

Panting said that the Hondurans whose trail has been lost are considered missing, not dead; perhaps they are working in Mexico, or are victims of abuse or sex trafficking, or are detained in prisons, or actually have died, but no one knows how or where.

“The most dangerous part of the journey is when they cross from Mexico. That’s where the majority dies. We don’t know what happened to many of them. There are a lot of bands of robbers,” said Hector Rodriguez, Martha Lidia’s brother-in-law.

Religious and civil organizations in Honduras have registered about 700 missing Hondurans, whose relatives have lost all communication with them.

In an effort to locate them, a group of 19 people set off on a search on Oct. 12, leaving Tegucigalpa to tour several towns in Guatemala and Mexico where the missing are believed to be.

The idea is to visit cantinas, ranches, jails, immigration detention centers, hospitals, etc. to try to find their whereabouts.

“One of the most important stops on the tour is the Merced and San Pablo neighborhoods, where it is estimated that there are about 2,000 young victims of human trafficking,” said Father Luis Angel Nieto, a well-known Los Angeles activist who decided to go to Central America a year ago to join this effort.

“We want to stress this – a large number of these people went missing in Mexico, so we want to ask Mexican authorities to pay attention to this issue. When I traveled to Central America, I realized that are thousands of families who don’t know their children are for multiple reasons, most of them from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and of course Honduras,” said Father Nieto.

This will be the fifth search trip organized by the Human Mobility Pastoral of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa.

In the past four trips, said Archdiocese representative Ligia Ruiz, about 30 people have been found.

The search missions began in 2000 thanks to a group of 15 mothers who formed the Committee for Migrants and Relatives of Honduras.

Consul Panting recognized what she called the “titanic” work being done by these search groups.

Cecilia Rodríguez, president of the Honduran Alliance of Los Angeles, said it is very common to hear people talk about family members who have disappeared on their journey north.

“They say they’ve been lost, that they haven’t heard anything from them, and they want to know what they can do. The only thing I can think of to tell them is to go to one of the Primer Impacto or Don Francisco programs and report the disappearance. Maybe they can help find them,” said Rodriguez.

The Honduran government approved funding for these search missions, but to date the organizations have not yet received the funds.

The search group began Sunday morning and is expected to be in back in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 23, after visiting several villages in Chiapas, Veracruz and the state of Mexico.

Translated by Elena Shore

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