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The Families Migrants Left Behind

Created: 26 April, 2013
Updated: 26 July, 2022
4 min read

Frontera NorteSur

In Mexico and Central America, thousands and thousands of families are largely forgotten in the immigration debate. They are the survivors of migrants who died in the United States or perished while attempting to cross the border. Deprived of their breadwinners, the survivors often engage in Herculean efforts to move ahead in life.

In the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Guadalupe “Lupita” Velazquez and her three young children are among those eking out an existence in the absence of a loved one who died during a border crossing.

Velazquez was left a widow after her husband Irineo Barrita, 29, was killed together with eight other Mexican nationals-all from Oaxaca-when the driver of the van in which the group was riding attempted to flee the Border Patrol in Palmview, Texas, on April 10, 2012. Six other passengers of the packed vehicle were injured.

Interviewed shortly after the fatal crash, Velazquez told Mexican reporter Citlalli Lopez that Irineo, known as “Jhony” in his hometown, called her from Texas only hours before dying to assure his wife that he way okay. The laborer was on his way to Atlanta to find work.

“Irineo was a good person. He was a good father and a good husband,” Velazquez said. “Unfortunately, he had to go. He told us he was going because he wanted to build a house. That’s why he decided to go work. We never imagined what would happen afterwards.”

One year later, Velazquez supports her family by making tortillas, a part-time job which pays the daily minimum wage of about five dollars. The 28-year-old woman also supplements the family income with $100 every two months from the federal anti-poverty Opportunities program.

“I have to work and abandon my children,” Velazquez said in a recent interview. “It’s hard to find work because all the jobs are full-time. I work half the day and we get by with the little I earn.” While Velazquez works, her nine-year-old daughter takes care of the younger two children: an eight-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy.

To make matters worse, Velazquez is burdened with a debt of nearly $4,000 that Irineo incurred to pay for his ill-fated journey to El Norte. Little-by little, the widow is paying off the debt with the assistance of her father-in-law.

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Lupita Velazquez is far from alone in her quest to keep a family together in the wake of the sudden departure of a relative who suffered a migrant’s death.

According to the official Oaxaca Institute for Migrant Attention, 46 men and women from the state died while abroad during the first three months of 2013, including three people who perished while trying to cross over to the U.S.

In 2012, Oaxaca lost 161 native sons and daughters abroad, including 17 people who died while making the Mexico-U.S. border crossing. The state government does not maintain statistics on the number of widows and orphans of Oaxaca’s migrants.

But U.S. Border Patrol statistics recently disclosed to the Guerrero state edition of La Jornada newspaper give another clue to the magnitude of the survivor’s issue in Mexico and points south.

Quoted by the daily, Andy Adame, the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector spokesman, said the bodies of 50 suspected migrants, the majority of them unidentified, were found in the Arizona desert alone during the first half of Fiscal Year 2013, which began last October 1. According to Adame, 189 suspected migrants were found dead in the same zone during Fiscal Year 2012, while 198 similar bodies were recovered in Fiscal Year 2011.

Like the latest remains which were discovered, the majority of bodies recovered during the two preceding fiscal years remain unidentified, according to the Border Patrol spokesman.

Additionally, Border Patrol agents have rescued 178 migrants from Arizona’s harsh and arid terrain in the past six months, Adame said. The U.S. official re-issued a warning to would-be migrants not to attempt the desert journey, especially during the excruciatingly hot weather season which is getting underway.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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