This article was first published in El Comercio of Quito, Ecuador. It has been translated by Debbie Nathan. The article has been translated without El Comercio’s permission, but has been published with Debbie Nathan’s permission. The MxJTP gratefully acknowledges Debbie Nathan’s work.
Dead in Juárez: Noemí tried to migrate twice and her last attempt left her dead
by Lineida Castillo (EL COMERCIO, Quito, Ecuador)
In Cañar province, immigration pulls in children and teenagers. Parents who live outside the country make deals on the phone with human traffickers operating in Central America and Ecuador.
Noemí A., one little girl who tried to get to the United States illegally and who died before crossing the border with Mexico, was buried yesterday.
The child’s grandparents carried her body to the church in the village of Tambo in an act of farewell before her burial. During the ceremony, the priest issued a call to the faithful to protect their children by not sending them out of the country. After the mass, her body was taken to the District Attorney’s office for another investigation.
According to the provincial district attorney of Cañar, Romeo Gárate, another autopsy was carried out to determine the causes of death. The official has requested Mexico’s Attorney General for papers related to the case and for her smuggler to be investigated.
After the judicial investigation, her body will be buried in the village cemetery.
Noemí was on her way to meet her parents, who had left her ten years earlier to look for the “American dream.” Last 11 March, two months before her twelfth birthday, Noemí was found dead in a room in a house in Mexico. A District Attorney in Mexico determined that the child had committed suicide, hanging herself with a shower curtain in a shelter where she had been taken after being caught with a smuggler who was trying to take her to the US.
The trip was her second attempt. In August, Noemí had left her native Molino Huayco, El Tambo for the first time. She lived in Tambo with her grandparents Cipriano Quillay and María Guamán. On her mother’s instruction, the little girl was put on a regional bus to Tulcán.
There, on the same bus, and for the same reason, was another minor from Cañar. Noemí’s parents made a deal over the phone for a $15,000 trip with an undocumented migrant smuggler from Mexico who also works with a network of smugglers in Ecuador.
In Tulcán, a man waited for them. The girls went with him overland to Colombia, and then left on a Panama-bound plane. That is the route most used by smugglers who take minors from Cañar – a growing phenomenon that worries authorities.
Although there are no official statistics about child migration, since 2013 to the present the non-governmental organization 1800-Migrantes has dealt with nine cases of minors from Azuay and Cañar who have been caught during their crossing to the United States. According to William Murillo, the NGO’s director, on average they receive about three inquiries per week, mainly from grandparents seeking advice about trips for minors.
In the past few months, almost every community in Cañar has children who have left to migrate. In the village of Molino ten minors have left this year.
According to District Attorney Gárate, migration from this province is a process. First the father leaves, then he brings his wife, and eventually the couple decides to send for their children. Those in this type of process who opt for reunion are typically parents who have spent more than six years separated from their children.
The DA questions the parents: “They’ve experienced first hand the abuses of crossing borders, yet they still hand their children over to criminals whose only interest is money and not people’s lives.”
He has noted a tendency among migrant women, including adolescents, to take a morning after pill with them on the trip, so that if they are sexually assaulted they will not get pregnant.
Ten years ago, Noemí’s parents left El Tambo and spent almost three months crossing. The journey included: onerous hikes through the desert, being locked up, twice arrested, and attacks by armed groups, a relative said.
The little girl went through the same thing. On her first try she was locked up for three months with her travel companion (a ten-year-old girl) in a room in Panama, until they returned to Cañar. Cipriano dries his tears and remembers his surprise when she came back to the little adobe house where she had been raised since she was six months old.
Noemí told them that she had been locked up the whole time and only given bread or crackers with Coke.” She lost weight. She was depressed, quiet, and crying, Cipriano recalled. To keep her busy, they enrolled her in school, where she was always the best student.
Cipriano thought that would put an end to the parents’ obsession with bringing the child over, but it didn’t happen that way. On February 6 the grandfather again handed over his granddaughter, this time to a woman from Cañar who was going to Quito. Two other little girls, 8 and 10 years old, were going with her.
The man found out about his granddaughter on March 12 when his son-in-law called and said, “Noemí is dead.” Cipriano says he often argued with the parents because he never agreed to the trip. “I told them she was just a little girl and they shouldn’t put her at risk, and that she didn’t lack for food here. On the second attempt the parents made a deal with another smuggler from Cañar.
Cipriano learned that all three children traveling with his granddaughter during both attempts are now with their parents in the US. In Molino Huayco there are children, like another of Cipriano’s grandchildren, who refuse to go even though their parents urge them to; there are still others who have been detained and deported.
Gárate said that the Cañar district attorney is investigating this and other child trafficking cases, but the families do not give out information so those responsible can be located. In spite of scant cooperation, Gárate says, “in this province we have won more cases (60%), involving trafficking of immigrants or scams related to immigration, than any other of the country’s provinces. A conviction used to get six years maximum and now it gets 25.”
Cipriano said he did not know anything about the smugglers who took his granddaughter to Mexico because the contacts and payment were made by the parents from the US.
Noemí’s young body arrived in Cañar last week. Yesterday there was a mass over her body, attended by the grandparents who had raised her for ten years. Her parents left Noemí in their charge when they immigrated illegally to the United States. [She died on the U.S. Mexico border in Ciudad Juárez.]
Journalist Lineida Castillo reports for El Comercio. This article first appeared under the title, “Noemí intentó migrar dos veces y solo halló la muerte,” available at: http://www.elcomercio.com/seguridad/Noemi-nina_migrante-deceso-Mexico-coyote-Canar-Tambo-suicidio_0_1120687986.html.
Translator Debbie Nathan is an award-winning journalist and author whose last book, Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personalities Case, was published by the Free Press in 2011. Among other subjects, she is a long-time observer and writer about the U.S.-Mexico border whose highly recommended article about El Paso appeared in N+1 in May 2013. She lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at: @DebbieNathan2.