Border Report: A Disappearance That Hits Close to Home
Gov. Jerry Brown pardons deported military veterans, another Mexican journalist is killed, outside critics don’t like Barrio Logan mural they’ve never seen and more in our roundup of news from the border.
A prominent border activist has been missing since Thursday after putting up an unsettling Facebook Live video from a freeway near Mexico City, rattling the tightly knit border community and spurring pleas for help from his family.
Humanitarian aid worker Hugo Castro, 45, is from San Diego but lives in Tijuana, where he directs the Baja California chapter of Border Angels. He has pressured the Mexican government to help both the recently deported and the thousands of Haitian people who are either waiting for asylum in the United States or who have decided to settle into everyday life just south of the border. Castro had been receiving death threats, he said, which had recently been ratcheting up.
Castro had been traveling to participate in the Viacrusis de Refugiados,a refugee caravan traveling from the Guatemalan border to Tijuana in order to bring more attention to the plight of refugees and displaced peoples. Castro was waylaid between Mexico City and Puebla. In the last video he recorded before his April 13 disappearance, Castro gave his coordinates and asked for help, saying he had little money and that his phone was about to lose power:
Castro’s partner and fellow aid worker Gaba Cortes said that she is doing all she can to find him. “We don’t know anything more at the moment,” she said, and asked people to spread the word about Castro in order to pressure both the United States’ and Mexico’s government to step up the search.
Cortes will be traveling to Mexico City to look for Castro. Anyone who wishes to donate to her search can do so via PayPal: email@example.com.
Castro’s disappearance is not just another story about someone I know loosely, as has been the case for years whenever a journalist or activist is disappeared or murdered in Mexico; in those cases, it is heart-wrenching, sad, scary and too close for comfort, but has always pushed me to work twice as hard to unearth the stories that might hold those accountable who would otherwise intimidate or terrify people into silence.
Hugo is different. He is someone with whom I have worked for many years on stories, an essential contact for various interviews, a dedicated humanitarian, and most of all, a friend. To be just one degree closer to someone who has disappeared is worse by many orders of magnitude. It is more than chilling – it is gutting, disheartening and most of all, demoralizing.
Mexico’s attorney general’s office, the Procuraduría General de la República, is now investigating his disappearance.
• Meanwhile, another journalist has been killed in Mexico, this time in Baja California Sur. Maximino Rodríguez Palacios, 72, was gunned down outside a restaurant in La Paz as he was preparing to ask for a wheelchair for his wife, who has mobility problems. (She was not injured.) He is the fourth reporter to be murdered in Mexico within two months. New threats against news publication Zeta Tijuana have prompted Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humans (National Commission of Human Rights) to ask that its offices receive protection.
Easter Fellowship – and Resistance
Crowds gathered at Friendship Park and Parque de la Amistad (its Playas counterpart) for an annual Easter binational mass. This year, organizers offered a message of hope and called for families separated by the international border to be reunited. It also marked the seventh day of the Caravan Against Fear, which is traveling from California to Texas to call attention to the rights of immigrants, persuade local governments to resist President Trump’s policies and call for people to join a national May 1 strike.
• That won’t be the only protest on May 1: Mexicali Resiste has announced plans for a May Day “megamarcha” to protest high gasoline prices, encroaching privatization (such as with multinational corporation Constellation Brands) and general government corruption.
Brown Pardons Deported Vets
After years of paperwork, petitioning and raising awareness, the efforts of deported veterans are paying off: As part of a spring tradition of issuing pardons ahead of Easter festivities, California Gov. Jerry Brown has pardoned three deported members of the United States military, paving the way for them to return to the country they call home. Among them is Hector Barajas, founder of Tijuana’s Deported Veterans Support House, colloquially called The Bunker.
“[I’m] very excited that I have a second opportunity of becoming a citizen,” Barajas said. “The pardon by the governor gave me hope.”
Jennie Pasquarella, who is director of immigrant’s rights for the American Civil Liberties Union and has worked closely with the deported veterans, released the following statement:
“With these pardons, Governor Brown has ended the life sentence of banishment these men have suffered every day since they were deported for the crime they committed. Hector Barajas, Erasmo Apodaca, and Marco Antonio Chavez Medina long ago paid their price for their mistakes, but their deportation has been the worst price of all, as they have been permanently separated from their families and the only country they knew. These pardons open a historic pathway for these American veterans to return home to California as naturalized citizens or lawful permanent residents.”
Former San Diego Assemblyman (and Marine) Nathan Fletcher has been a major part of the efforts to bring deported veterans back into the United States. “Governor Brown today has shown compassion for California veterans and their families and taken bold action that highlights the plight of deported veterans,” he said.
Sessions Directs Prosecutors to Prioritize Immigration Cases
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a visit to the border in Arizona in early April, pleasing supporters and shocking immigrant rights activists when he described it as a “war zone,” invoking MS-13 and international cartels.
Sessions announced he has directed federal prosecutors to prioritize cases for illegal entry and re-entry, smuggling people across the border and assaults on border officials, and said that all adults apprehended at the border will be placed in detention centers.
Tensions in (and Outside of) Barrio Logan
A Barrio Logan-area construction company is being criticized for its bid to build Trump’s new border wall. Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos told NBC San Diego that he was disappointed that R.E. Staite Engineering Inc. had been given a $7 million contract from the Port of San Diego to build a new boat ramp at Shelter Island. He added that the border wall contract R.E. Staite is looking for “flies in the face of everything San Diego is about.”
Groups of protesters have repeatedly appeared at the construction company’s offices since its name became public, saying that its bid for the federal contract is effectively betraying its own community and demanding that it withdraw.
• The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that not everyone is a fan of a new mural in Barrio Logan that denounces plans for a border wall. But the only two critics mentioned in the story both live in Vista … and neither has seen the mural in person, just a photo of it.
A 21-year-old Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles player was arrested last week for attempting to smuggle 48 pounds of methamphetamine into the United States. Daniel Gómez Flores was flagged while crossing into the U.S., ostensibly for an early morning Denny’s run before practice. The drugs were reportedly found in a spare tire in the trunk; Gómez told border agents he knew nothing about them.
• Baseball is different in Tijuana, says the San Diego Reader. Specifically, it’s a lot more fun — and cheaper.