By Oyinda Rickford
SAN MARCOS – Earlier this month, police arrested three men for allegedly kidnapping immigrants from Mexico and holding them for ransom.
A group of at least 10 immigrants were held captive in a house in San Marcos, where their captors forced them to stay until they each paid several thousand dollars in cash.
The migrants were kidnapped while being smuggled from Mexico to Austin.
Texas State University police also assisted in the arrest due to the operation’s proximity to campus. Plus, last week – Kyle police arrested five people for the same kind of crime.
In a world where immigration issues and human rights violations make headlines, these recent cases has brought the global problem even close to home. In this interview, we explore the expertise of Dr. Sarah Blue, an associate professor of geography at Texas State University and a passionate advocate for immigrant rights. Dr. Blue’s extensive experience on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border offers a unique perspective into this alarming reality.
Rickford: How did you get involved in issues surrounding immigration reform, and what are some real-life experiences you’ve seen at the border?
Blue: “In 2015, I did a research project at the border with a Mexican colleague and colleagues from other universities, UT and San Diego State University.”
Rickford: “Have you heard about the immigrant kidnapping in San Marcos?
Dr.Blue: ”Yeah, I just read that there was another report today, they got another five people and last week it was three people. This is a common thing, to keep immigrants in safe houses, and they are extorted, so they pay…They pay a certain amount but sometimes they get sold off to another group or some group decides they are going to kidnap them and make more money off of them…What it seems like in this case and in many cases, the individuals who are being extorted and kidnapped are able to make a phone call to a relative, and then they call the police. That’s what I believe happened in this case, some migrants were being held here in San Marcos.”
Rickford: How does a migrant end up in a situation like this and do you see cases like this often?
Dr. Blue: “We’ve been interviewing people for the last several years down at the border, and on the Mexican side in Reynosa we were interviewing people…A Lot of the people we talked to reported that the cartel controls the buses, so when they get off the bus they are escorted into a van and they are told they’re going to a shelter but they take them to a safehouse or a warehouse and they keep them there until they pay another five-thousand or something, before they’ll take them to the shelter…There’s a lot of groups trying to make money off of immigrants.”
Rickford: What do you think makes immigrants especially vulnerable?
Dr.Blue: “You can’t really go to the police, sometimes you think you’re going to the police, and they turn you over to the cartel…they don’t know who they can trust. There is not very much justice at the border. A lot of impunity, people can just commit crimes and get away with it, especially against immigrant populations. They’re foreigners, they are often poor, they are displaced…so people think they can just exploit them.”
Rickford: Do we know who is responsible for the trafficking here in San Marcos?
Dr.Blue: “In this case in San Marcos we don’t know who it is, we don’t know if they are working with a criminal organization or just kind of freelancing… the cartels change all the time and they change their territory…I don’t know if it is even productive to try and identify who is behind this because it could change.”
Rickford: What steps can the community take to prevent incidents like this in the future?
Dr.Blue: “Well, in San Marcos in particular, I think if you see something suspicious, and you think that maybe somebody is holding people against their will in a home…it’s good to call the police.”
Rickford: What would you like people to take away from reading about this?
Dr.Blue: “I think it’s very important to highlight that most of the people that we see at the border are asylum seekers who are trying to come in legally, they are presenting themselves, they’re asking for help…I personally advocate for a more humanitarian response that helps asylum seekers and separates that from the criminal organizations.”
Written by: Danielle De Lucia