JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Eight migrants have been victims of homicide in Juarez in the last nine months, with the bodies of seven found within walking distance of the same street.
The murders could be the tip of the iceberg of widespread, greed-fueled violence against vulnerable migrants from Central and South America and even rural Mexico, a Juarez immigration lawyer says.
“They kidnap the ones they find on the streets. They find out if they have family members in the United States and they call them to demand ransom. If they don’t pay that ransom, they kill them,” said Jorge Vazquez Campbell, who also heads a nonprofit that advocates for the legal rights of refugees passing through Mexico.
Police in Juarez on Wednesday told Border Report there is no way for their officers to know the nationality of a homicide victim carrying no identity documents. The identification process can be lengthy and involve reaching out to consulates or embassies.
The killings have received little publicity until recently, precisely because authorities did not know they were migrants.
The latest migrant homicide involves a Venezuelan woman who was taken out of a car along with an unidentified female and shot to death in the Escobedo neighborhood near Downtown Juarez.
On Jan. 23, the bodies of a Honduran woman and a Salvadoran man were abandoned near a street called Isla Tonga. A day later, a Nicaraguan schoolteacher and a man from Veracruz, Mexico, were found dead farther down the same street.
Last September, authorities recovered the bodies of three Ecuadoran men also near Isla Tonga.
A Border Report/KTSM crew visited the neighborhood on Wednesday. Unpaved streets lead up to hills and then disappear. Few residents could be seen out of their gated and locked homes. A few that were out and about refused to speak on camera.
Vazquez Campbell said the remote south Juarez neighborhood is propitious for abandoning a body after the person is killed in a home or warehouse elsewhere. He has first-hand knowledge of the issue after being contacted last year by the families of five missing Central American migrants.
The missing men, some of whom allegedly had been picked up by Mexican immigration authorities, turned up dead last June. He described the manner of death as sadistic, with people being victims of extreme violence and then strangled with a rope or the cord of an electrical appliance.
The relatives of some of the victims paid ransoms of up to $15,000 and they were still killed, Vazquez Campbell said, raising a troubling scenario he believes to be true.
“Why do they kill them even after their family pays the ransom? Because the kidnappers don’t want to be identified because some of them are police officers,” he said.
Mexican police involvement in migrant kidnappings has been documented. Just on Wednesday, the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of two Juarez municipal police officers on migrant kidnapping charges unrelated to the killings.
An officer identified only as Saulo D.G. is accused of abducting two migrants who on May 9 flew from Mexico City to Juarez on May 9 and were riding an Uber to the city. The officer and a civilian accomplice allegedly took the migrants to a house where a second officer, Juan Manuel R.I. pulled out a gun and forced them to call relatives in the U.S. and tell them to pay a ransom.
The Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that those migrants were held captive for 12 days, often being beaten and receiving verbal threats and abuse until their relatives would pay the $15,000 ransom for each.
Vazquez Campbell told Border Report he went to Juarez authorities after the Central American families that contacted him paid a ransom last year and did not hear back from their missing relatives.
“They charged the family 12- and 15-thousand dollars in ransom. The family took the money out of American banks and sent it. I filed a complaint in Juarez, and they ignored it. I went to the FBI at the consulate and told them the money was paid from the U.S. banks,” he said.
Vazquez Campbell said organized crime has increasingly targeted migrants in Juarez since 2018. That’s the year large-scale migrant caravans started moving through Mexico and more vulnerable migrants started passing through cartel strongholds such as Juarez, Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo.
Migrant activity at the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped dramatically since the May 11 end of Title 42 public health expulsions. But crimes targeting migrants apparently have not.
On Wednesday, the Chihuahua state police announced the arrest of three men and two minors in connection to a botched kidnapping attempt on the Juarez-Chihuahua highway.
State police arrested Giovanni N.B., 21, Jonathan V.M, 21, Sergio L.J., 20, and two minors ages 15 and 16, in connection with the abduction of a family on Mexican Federal Highway 45 between Juarez and Chihuahua City.
State police said the men targeted the occupants of a white Dodge Caravan van under the impression they were migrants. They released the victims once they realized they were a Mexican family about their business, but took their vehicle, nonetheless, the state police said.
Updated at 1:07 p.m. MDT on June 15, 2023.