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Mexico’s aid pledges unmet in Yuma immigrant tragedy

The Arizona Republic


Arizona Republic Mexico City Bureau

EL TESORO, Mexico – Faustina Romero Enriquez, whose husband died in the Yuma desert two years ago with 13 other illegal immigrant workers, was tending to customers at her ramshackle shop in this mountain settlement when one of them told her about the latest migrant tragedy.

“I felt like someone poured scalding water on me,” Romero Enriquez said of the May 14 discovery of 17 dead migrants in an abandoned tractor-trailer near Victoria, Texas. Two more migrants died later.

“It feels ugly,” she said.

She recalled, all over again, the bitter sadness of losing a spouse and the stark realization of being newly alone in the world.

“They aren’t ours, but they might as well be,” said Romero Enriquez, whose brother and three nephews live in the United States. “What we suffered was horrible.”

The families of the seven victims in the Yuma incident who came from this mountainous area in Veracruz state are remembering their dead with a new flowered cross at each grave, installed in a ceremony of prayers and music. Local tradition dictates the crosses for the first three anniversaries of the deaths.

But the families don’t have much more than that to show for their pain.

Though the Yuma case generated widespread media attention and politicians’ pronouncements, Mexican officials’ pledges of financial help have gone unfulfilled. The families complain about the government’s unmet promises.

Federal officials are looking into the promises made and why they weren’t kept, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said recently at a news conference.

Last year, on the first anniversary of the deaths, a parade of government officials led by Juan Hernandez, then head of President Vicente Fox’s migrant affairs effort, came to the nearby settlement of El Equimite with food, a mariachi band, a plaque and pledges of whatever help the migrants’ families needed.

Irma Vazquez Landa, widow of Mario Castillo, asked for a job cleaning classrooms at the local elementary school. Juana Claudio Miranda, Alejandro Marin Claudio’s mother, wanted a pension. Erendida Barreda Landa – whose father, Raymundo Barreda Landa, and sister Raymundo Barreda Maruri died – wanted to attend teachers college in the state capital of Xalapa so she could return to teach in her hometown.

Hernandez, they said, gave them phone numbers and cards for state offices in Xalapa. But bureaucrats kept referring them from person to person or simply weren’t sure how to help them. So the women gave up.

“They promised us a lot of things,” said Octavia Fabian Martinez, Enrique Landero’s widow.

Some of the families receive government help through the Opportunities program, which shares a similar aim with the Head Start program in the United States. The families get money for food and those who have children get money for school fees.

The amounts range from $16 to $184 every two months, the last amount for Juana Hernandez Sanchez, who has four children in school. The families said the program was in place when their loved ones died and that they get no more or less than what other families get.

Besides, they said, the money is not nearly enough. Fabian Martinez receives $16 every two months but spends about $20 monthly for shoes that her 8-year-old outgrows or wears out.

And then there are the monthly fees charged to all heads of households to pay for school maintenance.

“The immediate presidential order is to fulfill what wasn’t fulfilled, but not only that, also an apology to these family members for not achieving the action that was promised,” Derbez said at the recent news conference.

“We are quickly investigating to fulfill all those promises that might have gone unfulfilled by the federal government or the state government or the municipal government.”

MAP: The Arizona Republic

Broken promises

The families of some of the 14 migrants who died in the Yuma desert two years ago are still waiting for the Mexican government to fulfill some of the promises officials made to them.

PHOTO CAPTION: The Associated Press

RIGHT: Lucio Leon of Pozos, Mexico, looks at the coffin of Hector Ramirez, one of 17 illegal immigrants who died May 14 in an abandoned tractor-trailer in Texas.

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