A Cover-up in a Young Migrant’s Death?

Questions keep swirling around a tragic case that is seen by some as emblematic of the dangers facing unaccompanied minor children crossing Mexico while on their journey to the United States.

Four months after Jocelyn Nohemi Alvarez Quillay, a 12-year-old indigenous girl from Ecuador, was found hanging in a Ciudad Juarez shelter, officials from the South American nation are still pressing the Mexican government for a complete explanation of the tragedy.

In a Mexico City press conference this past week, senior officials from Ecuador’s foreign ministry told reporters that cooperation existed between the Mexican and Ecuadoran governments in probing Nohemi’s death, but crucial information concerning the responsibility of key Mexican officials and the full circumstances surrounding the matter is still lacking.

“A reading of the documents that the Ecuadoran prosecutor’s office has had access to does not permit an understanding of the real and concrete sequence of all the events from the time of the detention of the immigrant smuggler with (Nohemi), and which regretfully terminated with the death of the girl in the shelter where she was lodged,” said Maria Landazuri de Mora, Ecuadoran vice-minister for human mobility.

Four months have passed and Nohemi’s parents still do not know what happened to their daughter, the Ecuadoran government representative said. Landazuri de Mora was accompanied at the press conference by Alfonso Lopez Araujo, Ecuador’s ambassador to Mexico.

Nohemi Alvarez set off from her grandparent’s home in Ecuador last February 2, apparently with the aid of human traffickers, in a bid to rejoin her parents in New York City.  But the little girl made it only as far as Ciudad Juarez, where she was found hanging in the bathroom of the privately-run Villa Esperanza children’s shelter on March 11. The girl’s body was later returned to Ecuador, and press accounts reported that the Mexican government determined the cause of death as suicide.

In developments that prompted sharp criticisms by Ecuadoran officials, an accused immigrant smuggler who was with Nohemi, Ciudad Juarez resident Domingo Fermas Uves, was arrested twice but released both times. Fermas was then re-apprehended on June 25.

Speaking out in the local press, Fermas and his family members earlier challenged the state’s version of the man’s detention but stayed hush after his latest arrest.

Suspicions have lingered that Nohemi was murdered and/or sexually assaulted at some point prior to her death. Based on the information available to the Ecuadoran government, it is impossible to say whether or not Nohemi had been raped, according to Landazuri de Mora.

Nohemi was reportedly shuffled between the Chihuahua state police officers who detained her, the federal attorney general’s office (PGR), the federal court system, the Integral Family Development system (DIF) and finally Villa Esperanza. Contrary to international protocol, the Ecuadoran government was not advised of Nohemi’s detention until after death.

In response to the remarks made by Ecuadoran government officials at the Mexico City press briefing, Cesar Peniche Espejel, Chihuahua state delegate for the PGR, reiterated the Mexican position that Ciudad Juarez officials handled Nohemi’s detention in the manner they did because it was believed the little girl was a Mexican national from the state of Durango. Mexico has different policies for processing migrant children depending on citizenship and nationality.

Peniche said subsequent government investigations flowing from Nohemi’s death have exposed a broader immigrant trafficking network, with detentions already made and properties seized in Chihuahua City and Delicias. Other individuals are under investigation in the case, he said, and their identities will be made public when “arrest warrants are issued and they are detained.”

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission opened an investigation into Nohemi’s death last March, but has made no public pronouncements about the progress of the probe.

Mercedes del Carmen Guillen Vicente, under-secretary for the Mexican Interior Ministry, said this week that the Pena Nieto administration is planning more crack-downs on immigrant smuggling networks in cooperation with Central American governments.  As in the United States, the drama of migrant children traveling alone through Mexico has become a major and controversial issue.

“The migration of minors put all of us in the mirror,” Guillen said. “I’m talking about the countries of origin and transit. I would hope that the U.S. is also looking at itself in the mirror.”

Migrant advocates recently met with Ardelio Vargas, chief of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), to express their concerns about Mexican policies in relation to child migrants.

Juan Martin Perez Garcia, executive director of the Children’s Rights Network of Mexico, said the sheltering of child migrants in facilities coordinated by the DIF was among the issues raised.

INM statistics cited in the Mexican press report that 11, 265 unaccompanied foreign minors were “rescued,” or detained, by the Mexican immigration authorities during the first six months of 2014.  The detentions represent a sharp increase from 2013, when 9,893 foreign minors were detained, according to numbers reported by Amnesty International.

Of the 11,265 foreign minors detained in the first half of 2014, the vast majority, or 11,041 were from three Central American nations: Honduras (6,029), Guatemala (2,868) and El Salvador (2,144).

Ecuadoran Vice-Minister Maria Landazuri de Mora said her government would not like to see a repeat of the “primary omission” of failing to immediately notify consular officials of the detention of a foreign minor, as happened in the tragedy of Nohemi Alvarez.

“(Nohemi) makes us realize the state of defenselessness of our child and adolescent migrants, who are exposed to being victims of inhuman and degrading treatment by networks that obtain material benefits with their illicit movements,” the Ecuadoran official said. “This signifies for us the reason of the struggle for the respect of human dignity and the equality of rights.”

Landazuri de Mora vowed that the Ecuadoran government would stay on top of Nohemi’s case, informing about “the advance of the investigations at the right moment.”

For an earlier FNS report on Nohemi Alvarez, readers can go to: http://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/a-little-girl-named-nohemi-martyr-of-migration/

Sources:  El Diario de Juarez, July 9, 2014.  Article by Martha Elba Figueroa and Blanca Carmona. Agencia Reforma, July 9, 2014. El Economista, July 9, 2014. Article by Ana Langner. La Jornada, July 9, 2014. Article by Fabiola Martinez. Proceso/Apro, July 4 and 9, 2014. Articles by Gloria Leticia Diaz and editorial staff.


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