Conference brings ‘voiceless’ victims of torture out of the shadows
A husband and wife from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, who alleged they were kidnapped and threatened by Mexican police, address the audience at the Voice of the Voiceless Forum in El Paso, Texas, April 27. CNS photo/Joseph Kolb
The haunting image of the husband and wife, their heads and faces draped with black cloth, describing torture at the hands of the Mexican police in their native Ciudad Juarez, demonstrated the continued seriousness of the human rights crisis in Mexico and Latin America.
That crisis was the theme of the Voice of the Voiceless Immigration Forum sponsored by Annunciation House in El Paso April 27-28.
After his vehicle was carjacked by police, the husband courageously attempted to report the incident to officials. This was met with three days of torture at the hands of the suspect officers. He was handcuffed to a post and repeatedly beaten in the chest. This was followed by needles inserted through his nipples.
“They told me they had all the power in the world to do what they were doing,” said the husband. “They threatened to kill me, my wife and son if I didn’t remove the charges.”
His wife was forced to collect a ransom she could not fully obtain. Fearing her husband would be killed, she gave the police what she was able to collect and hoped they would accept it for her husband’s release.
The man was dumped in a vacant lot beside his wife, who was also abducted.
They immediately sought asylum in the United States and currently live at Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter in El Paso.
“We were told the next time would not be a warning and we would be killed,” the husband said.
The couple left everything, their families and belongings and fled to El Paso seeking asylum protection. They quickly discovered they would not be welcomed unconditionally by U.S. immigration officials, despite their plight.
“We came to the United States for asylum and they treat us like criminals,” said the wife, describing the arduous and dehumanizing asylum process. The couple does have legal representation but the success rate is low for Mexicans seeking asylum.
Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House and recipient of the 2012 Pax Christi Teacher of Peace award, continues his advocacy for immigrants such as this husband and wife, and hopes that word of what is occurring south of the border reaches a broader population through forums like this one.
“This is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem in the U.S. and the issue in Mexico is in a corrupted institutional quagmire,” Garcia said. “This has been going on for 20 to 30 years and we have a tendency to ignore what we don’t see.”
Garcia said the inequity in news coverage of Mexico and the Middle East contributes to the problem. He said because of the higher level of financial investment in the Middle East there is a greater need to demonstrate the instability in the region to justify the “wasting of more U.S. tax dollars.”
And in the meantime, the crisis in Mexico continues to be ignored. Garcia hoped to further highlight the crisis by projecting the names of 10,000 murder victims from Ciudad Juarez alone since 2008 on the side of their 100-year-old downtown El Paso brick building.
Father Bill Morton, a Columban priest expelled from Mexico because of his advocacy work, said the blood these people spilled sanctified the ground where they fell, compelling Catholics to recognize the crisis.
“Their blood stains are now holy ground and we will not let them be victimized again by forgetting them,” Father Morton said.
Also speaking at the forum was Mexican poet and author Javier Sicilia, whose son was murdered in 2011. He has since dedicated his life to pleading for an end to the drug war which has claimed more than 50,000 lives in Mexico since 2006.
Sicilia made frequent references to St. Paul and the importance of hope.
“We need to hope; if there is no hope the darkness will never end,” Sicilia said. “We live in evil; Mexico lives in evilness.”
He said parents like himself will never get their children back but through increasing awareness hope can spread.
“We need to recognize the dignity of human life and turn our pain into love so we can hope for the miracle of peace and justice,” he said.