Missing (Desaparecido)

“Missing” reads the top of the sheet. It has a picture, the age (24), and other relevant features including “special particularities” (a scar on the belly). It is not the first time I have seen a flyer like this one. Announcements would come through occasionally in Tierra Blanca or Nogales of migrants who were missing in the journey. Their relatives would disseminate their photo and a few facts, in the hope that someone might recognize them and respond with information. In 2011, a Caravan of Mothers travelled through Mexico searching for their sons and daughters lost while going north. In the journey of migration, lost can mean someone who was left behind or fell or was kidnapped or died.

In both shelters, we keep records of names and basic facts in case we were asked to find someone. In Tierra Blanca we even asked for señas particulares in case we had to identify a body. Sometimes a first-time migrant would ask why I had requested these identifying characteristics. When I explained, he would sit in shock as he absorbed the risks ahead of him.

But the flyer I saw recently was not even of a migrant. It was at a Caravan for Peace event protesting American complicity in the drug wars in Mexico. The young woman never moved outside of her hometown. And yet she disappeared a year ago, last seen at home. But disappearance is a euphemism. Her mom is worried that she has been trafficked in the sex trade. Or maybe killed.

Because the agony of knowing someone who is missing is simply not knowing where they are or whether they are alive. Such as one friend of mine, whose brother set out to cross the border months ago. The family has not heard from him since. Some other migrants in his same group made it to the US and say that he stayed behind in the desert. So did he die? Perhaps. The family may never know.

“Missing” means that there is no closure. There is no body, no surety about their fate. What does one do when someone that they love is missing? Should they give up hope and assume the worse? Should they keep looking? For how long?

People go missing in the US as well. The difference is that US authorities look actively for the missing in our country. Think of the headline stories, the Amber Alert system, and the many investigators. It doesn’t mean that everyone is found. But it does means someone is looking. Now imagine an environment of more violence and insecurity with less technology and fewer resources (operated by police who in certain parts of the country may be complicit with the drug gangs). Mexico currently has 16,000 unidentified bodies and 24,000 people reported missing.

So families across Mexico and Central America wait. And search. And hope. And despair. And pray. Let us pray with them.

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