EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Omar Reyes Lopez turns 20 on December 2, and his aunt Sheila still hopes he will make it to his birthday party.
But as the days pass, that hope fades. The last time anyone heard from him, he was wandering the Chihuahuan desert somewhere south of Presidio, Texas.
“He made a 911 call that was picked up on the U.S. side. Border Patrol couldn’t help him because he was on the other side. The Mexican army couldn’t find him because he had walked away,” said Sheila Arias.
Reyes, who has a learning disability, was part of a group of Mexican migrants that got separated on their way to the United States. The “coyote” (smuggler) allegedly left him behind. He remains missing and his aunt is spearheading a three-state effort to find him.
“Omar’s case is a typical one. He left a small town in Mexico with a cousin and some friends to go work in the United States. They went to Juarez and set off to cross the border on the Day of the Dead (November 2). Some were caught by the Border Patrol sometime after that. Some made it, others went back. He was left behind and no one went to look for him,” said Arias, an activist and human rights defender in Sinaloa.
The crossing took place some 200 miles east-southeast of Juarez. That’s at least one hour away from the Ojinaga-Presidio border and several days’ walk from Juarez. The calls and texts to his family were sporadic, likely due to loss of signal.
But that 911 call mobilized authorities and his family. “We moved heaven and earth to start a search. We got in touch with a lawyer to get a court to order a search. We didn’t have much time because we knew he only had food and water for three days,” Arias said.
Almost two weeks after he went missing, Chihuahua state police sent drones and a helicopter to scour the desert west of Ojinaga; state officers, Mexican soldiers and the National Immigration Institute followed traditional migrant walking paths in the area. In the end, Omar was nowhere to be found – dead or alive.
But he’s not the only one missing in the area, and that gives his family some hope.
Another 13 Mexican migrants are still unaccounted for since an armed commando intercepted the truck they were riding just west of the Presidio-Ojinaga crossing. Testimony from a witness has it that the assailants beat up the smugglers and took the migrants away.
“We know there are migrant safe houses in Juarez and Ojinaga. We want the authorities to find these places and free not just Omar, but all the other migrants as well. Migrants don’t just vanish; they are taken somewhere,” Arias said.
Reyes has a middle-school education but finds it difficult to read and write. His aunt attributes that to his poor eyesight and problems that could have been corrected if his school had had more resources. Reyes worked in the tomato fields with relatives in the town of San Salvador, Hidalgo.
“We are humble people. We don’t have resources, but still, we contacted the authorities here (Sinaloa), in Hidalgo and in Texas. We made such an intense search happen, but most families with missing loved ones don’t get that luxury. That needs to change,” Arias said.
Reyes’ family has set up a Facebook page to spread the news about the case and field possible tips to his whereabouts.