Migrants being killed in turf wars between Mexico cartels

On social media, the pleas for help are studded with emojis of praying hands and crying faces — all from the desperate relatives of 13 migrants who disappeared in late September, as they were poised to illegally cross from Mexico into West Texas.

“I am the wife of one of them and I ask you for help,” reads one recent Facebook post in English, although most of the pleas are in Spanish. “Today it is 88 days that I know nothing from any of the group.”

“They were likely the victims of transnational criminal groups and got caught up in a cartel turf war over smuggling routes,” said a US federal source who works on border issues and did not want to be identified.

In addition to the cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl that they smuggle across the border, both the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels — who dominate parts of northern Mexico — have branched out into smuggling desperate migrants, according to authorities on both sides of the border.

More than 95,000 people in Mexico are missing, many of them victims of cartel violence, according to the country’s National Search Commission.

Families and friends of 13 men who have gone missing in Mexico — after paying cartels to smuggle them across the border — demonstrated in front of government offices in Chihuahua, urging authorities not to end the search for the men.
Facebook

One expert told reporters in Texas this week that in Chihuahua, where the 13 men disappeared, cartels are raking in more than $30 million a month in human trafficking.

“The Mexican cartels have been heavily into human trafficking for a long time,” said Robert Almonte, a former El Paso cop and expert on Mexican cartels who works as a security consultant. “Now, with the rash of border crossings, they are involved more than ever. They don’t see these migrants as people. They see them as commodities, like drugs. And if [the trafficked migrants] ‘belong’ to a rival cartel, they’re going to kill them.”

The missing men, most of them from Chihuahua state, had set off to seek work and a better life in the US, where many of them have family, according to the Facebook posts.

Migrants cross the Rio Bravo river, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, in Chihuahua state, Mexico.
In Chihuahua, seen here, where the 13 men disappeared, cartels are raking in more than $30 million a month in human trafficking.
Xinhua/Sipa USA

“They only wanted to work and help their families get ahead,” said a family member who did not want to be identified. The men were kidnapped by an armed group near Coyame, about 55 miles from the Texas border, according to a witness.

Despite a series of intense overland and helicopter searches in the region where the migrants went missing, authorities have so far turned up no sign of the men, who ranged in age from 22 to 55 years old.

Now they are all believed by Mexican authorities to be dead. According to the Dallas Morning News and Marfa Public Radio, a Mexican security official close to the investigation said that authorities are “looking for bodies, or pieces of them, of what’s been left behind” in the desert. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, adding, “I can tell you, they’re not alive.”

Mexicans protest the disappearance of their loved ones from Chihuahua who have gone missing.
A Mexican security official said of the 13 men: “I can tell you, they’re not alive.”
Facebook

“They were all picked up by armed commandos,” the relative, who did not want to be identified, told The Post. “They were surprised at dawn and taken away by the armed group. This was the report from a 14-year-old who went with them and managed to escape. He arrived in Chihuahua on Sept. 29 and told the families what had happened to the men.”

The boy does not know what happened to them after they were apprehended by the armed group, said the relative.

Each man paid between $4,000 and $7,000 to coyotes affiliated with the cartels, a relative of one of them told The Post. Family members of the men, interviewed by The Post, claimed that they did not know which cartels the group had paid to make the journey across Mexico to the US border.

Central American migrants remain at the Pan de Vida shelter, after the Stay in Mexico program was reactivated, in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, 06 December 2021. The migrants were affected by the reestablishment by the United States of the 'Stay in Mexico' program, which forces them to wait in cities along the Mexican northern border while the US courts resolve their asylum applications.
Migrants reportedly pay coyotes associated with the cartels between $4,000 and $7,000.
Luis Torres/EPA

Since then, family members have posted photographs of the missing on TikTok and Facebook and held demonstrations in front of government offices in Chihuahua, urging authorities not to end the search for the men. One handmade sign at a December 15 protest in Chihuahua noted in Spanish: “They are not just 13. There are many more disappeared.”

The relatives continue to search for some sign that they all still may be alive.

“It’s a pain that burns and I can’t control,” said Suhey Soto in a Facebook post last week regarding one of the missing men. “I ask God every day, at every moment to give me a sign, or some news. But I feel that he isn’t hearing me.”