How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Top five immigration stories of 2010, #5: The Tamaulipas migrant massacre


Immigration has been one of the biggest topics in the news this year, pretty much as it has been nearly every year during the past decade. This year was of special interest, however, not only in terms of what happened (as in Arizona's partial enactment of its precedent-setting SB 1070), but also because of what didn't happen, as in the recent defeat of the Dream Act.

This week I'll be highlighting the top five immigration stories of 2010. This is only my list - everyone who is affected by or follows immigration issues will likely have his or her own list of the most important stories, as there are many of them. But here are the biggest stories as I've observed them this year, starting with this one:

#5: The Tamaulipas migrant massacre

Last week, when the Mexican government admitted that it was investigating the reported kidnapping of 50 Central American migrants earlier this month in the southern state of Chiapas, the news recalled a disturbing story from earlier this year: The tragic kidnapping and mass murder of 72 Central and South American migrants last August by drug cartel soldiers in the border state of Tamaulipas.

A young Ecuadoran man who lived to tell about it did so by pretending he was dead after receiving a bullet wound to the neck, then fleeing and seeking help. From one story:

He and fellow migrants from Central and South America, he told authorities, were headed to the Texas border with the hope of making it into the United States. Instead, everyone had been shot dead, slaughtered by gangsters even as they pleaded for their lives.

Much has been reported on the life-threatening dangers encountered by those crossing illegally over the Mexican border: the searing heat that kills hundreds each year, bandits, smugglers who kidnap the migrants and hold them for ransom in drop houses. Much has also been reported on the hazards faced by people from other countries who traverse Mexico in hopes of reaching the United States, many of them Central Americans who risk death, mutilation and assault clinging to the northbound trains.

However, the story of the 72 murdered migrants, their bodies left in an abandoned warehouse on a ranch less than a hundred miles from the Texas border, brought international attention to just how perilous this journey has become. The human smuggling trade has become ever more rife with dangerous organized crime elements, and the border region that these people make their way across continues to be gripped by drug violence. As a story in The Economist put it after the killings, there is no safe passage.

The Mexican government's National Human Rights Commission has estimated that several thousand migrants, mostly Central Americans, fell victim to kidnappers last year. Just yesterday, El Salvador's government reported the kidnapping of nine additional migrants by gunmen last week from a Mexican train, five of whom escaped. One was killed, and three are missing.

Some of those murdered in Tamaulipas were never unidentified. Last fall for the Day of the Dead, a group of writers and photographers put together a moving tribute to all of the victims.

May they rest in peace.

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