An extended Mexican family is split by wars between drug cartels and U.S. immigration policy.
May 23, 2022
Ramón Ortega and his daughter, Yareli, stand in front of a window in the abandoned mansion of a local drug trafficker who was murdered some 20 years ago. The narco-palace, complete with its own system of cobblestone roads, an infinity pool, and cages that housed lions and crocodiles, is just a couple of miles from Ramón and Yareli’s own home, a tin-roofed two-room house without running water. Tupitina, Michoacán, Mexico, October 2020
It was a baseless rumor. But when word spread through Mexico, in the fall of 2019, that the Trump administration was welcoming refugees from narco-related violence, it spurred a rush of hopeful migrants to Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. The refugees arrived with tragic stories. One man showed his fingers, cut to the knuckles by cartel henchmen. Others told of beatings and rapes. A tent village grew on the Mexican side at the foot of the international bridge.
Migrant children play with a new toy. Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, December 2019
The Ortega family, housed in a big blue tent on Benito Juárez Avenue, had suffered a recent tragedy. Only months earlier, cartel members had raided their farm, near the southern coast of Michoacán, and killed their 60-year-old father, José Luis, and a 24-year-old brother, Hiberto. It’s still unclear why the thugs, who seemed to be operating independently of their cartel, targeted the two farmers. In the following days, rumor spread that other family members would be next. So the family matriarch, Rita, mother of 11, traveled 1,400 miles north to the border with her four children still living in the vicinity and their respective families. Their goal: to join one of their sisters who had been living in California for a decade.
In the following months, the large Ortega family would scatter across much of the North American continent. Some dodged border police in the United States while others faced narco cartels back home. A grinding U.S. judicial system utterly foreign to them would further split up the family, moving two of the sons from one detention center to another. Within months, the pandemic would strike both countries.
Bishop Michael Buerkel Hunn gives an interview on the Santa Fe international bridge between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso while a group of Episcopalian priests and volunteers wait with migrant families seeking asylum. On January 3, 2020, the Ortegas, who had remained in the camp, were finally able to cross, ending their three-month wait on the street.
In the …….