MEXICO CITY (AP) — The two cousins returned to the small, harsh hamlet they grew up in in southern Mexico about two weeks ago to bid farewell in what has become a right-of-way for generations of migrants from their remote, impoverished mountainous region in Oaxaca state.
It wouldn’t be the first trip to the US-Mexico border for Javier Flores López, now in his mid-thirties, who years ago had left Cerro Verde and gone to Ohio, where his father and brother live and he worked in construction. .
He was home to see his wife and three small children, said a cousin, Francisco López Hernández. This time he returned to the United States with another cousin, José Luis Vásquez Guzmán, 32, who went for the first time and hoped to join his oldest brother who was also in Ohio.
While everyone knew the risks, countless people from Cerro Verde had crossed the US-Mexico border safely with the help of smugglers, so it came as a shock, López Hernández said, to learn that his cousins and dozens of other migrants were being brought in. abandoned a tractor-trailer sizzling under the Texas sun.
Flores López is now one of the missing, his family said, while Vásquez Guzmán is in hospital in San Antonio. At least 53 people have died, including 27 people from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador, said Francisco Garduño, head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.
The driver remained in custody along with two other men from Mexico as the investigation into the deadliest smuggling episode ever in the US continues
Vásquez Guzmán was one of 67 people in the truck that was found abandoned Monday near car salvage yards on the outskirts of San Antonio. The family believes Flores López was too, but they are still waiting for confirmation.
Officials had possible identifications of 37 of the victims as of Wednesday morning, pending verification with authorities in other countries, according to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office. Forty of the victims were men.
Identifying the dead was a challenge as some were found without identification documents and in one case were carrying stolen ID. Outlying villages, such as Cerro Verde, have little to no phone service to reach relatives, and fingerprint data must be shared and matched by the governments involved.
Cerro Verde is a community of about 60 people largely abandoned by young people. Those who continue to work earn a meager income by weaving sun hats, mats, brooms and other articles from palm fronds. Many live on just 30 pesos a day (less than $2).
“The truth is that people are leaving here out of necessity,” said Felicitos García, who owns a small supermarket in nearby San Miguel Huautla, adding that he saw the two men about two weeks ago. “Life is tough here. People survive by growing their own crops, such as corn, beans and wheat. Sometimes the land gives in and sometimes it doesn’t, when the rain comes late. There is no place for people to have other resources. People live from one day to the next.”
Vásquez Guzmán’s mother, who is trying to get a visa to see her son in Texas, raised him and his three siblings alone after their father died when Vásquez Guzmán was 10, García said. She is now the only one of the family left in Cerro Verde. Vásquez Guzmán left when he was 18 and joined the Mexican army.
His oldest brother, Eloy, went to the United States just over a year ago and settled in Ohio, said López Hernández, who grew up on the neighboring ranch and attended school with him.
“I imagine he was commenting on how the work situation was and everything and how he could make more money,” said López Hernández. “I imagine he called him so that he would also come and have a better life. That’s the draw why he went.”
Vásquez Guzmán, who has lived in Mexico City for the past six years, returned to Cerro Verde only to say goodbye to his mother, López Hernández said.
He knew it was an expensive and risky journey. López Hernández said most people depend on those who have reached the US to send them money for the trip, which usually costs about $9,000.
“There are many risks, but for those who are lucky, the fortune is there to be able to work and earn a living,” he said.
With so many leaving and heading for the United States, it’s easy to find a smuggler, and so far people have crossed the road safely, López Hernández said.
“I don’t know in this case if they changed or what happened, why they were abandoned,” he said.
López Hernández, who also has a brother who lives in Ohio, has considered joining him. But he said family, work, school and other responsibilities have kept him in Mexico.
On Sunday evening he asked his uncle if he had heard from Vásquez Guzmán. He told him he was in Texas.
“I said to him, ‘How cool, that’s he’s trying his best and we’ll see him on his return,'” replied López Hernández before they lost their phone signal.
He later learned about the tragedy from the internet.
Watson reported from San Diego.