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Border Crisis: Migrant Women Disappear in Arizona Desert

Crisis fronteriza: mujeres migrantes desaparecen en desierto de Arizona, EFE

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By María León

Young, attractive migrants are disappearing in an area of the Arizona desert, their families have reported to the rescue group ‘Desert Chaplains’, which has counted at least a dozen in recent months and fears they have fallen into a human trafficking ring.

“This week alone we have just received the report of another two cases, with these we now have 12 active cases,” Óscar Andrade, director of the humanitarian organization, told EFE.

He stressed that what is most alarming is that they all follow the same pattern: young, physically attractive women disappeared in the same region of the Arizona desert.

Family members have told Andrade that the “coyotes” tell them that they left the women in the desert because they could no longer continue, but later change their story, arguing that they were most likely arrested by the Border Patrol.

For years, ‘Desert Chaplains’ have worked in the search for missing persons.

They go out into the desert to look for them based on the coordinates or signs that the human traffickers have given the families.

Andrade said that this year the number of people reported missing has significantly increased compared to 2021.

“We have been receiving up to 20 reports per week,” he said.

In some cases, the group has been successful in finding migrants in conjunction with the Border Patrol and providing first aid, and in others they have only found lifeless bodies.

However, in the particular cases of these women, no trace of them has been found.

“We contacted both Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to see if there is a woman with the same physical characteristics, in case the person changed her name, but nothing,” Andrade lamented.

One of the missing is Lizet Jazmin Baryas, a 23-year-old Salvadoran immigrant who has not been heard from since last May after a second attempt to cross the Arizona desert.

She was trying to be reunited with her husband, Carlos Alexander Arias, who is still waiting for her in the U.S.

“She tried to cross once, but she was arrested and deported, then she talked to me and told me she would try again. From there I never heard from her again,” Arias told EFE.

The last thing he received was a photograph of her in camouflaged clothing ready to cross the desert.

“The smuggler told me that they were discovered by a Border Patrol helicopter, that everyone ran, and that they never saw her again. But now the coyote won’t even answer my phone,” said the immigrant, who lives in Chicago.

The young woman had paid $14,000 to the traffickers to take her to the U.S.

“My greatest fear is that she is in the hands of the mafia, that she is being prostituted, that she has fallen into a sex trafficking ring,” Arias said.

These fears are not unfounded, as Andrade claims that in his role as chaplain he has spoken to several coyotes to try to get clues as to what might be going on or how to find these young women.

Venezuelan women, “big business”

“These coyotes have told me that the ‘young girls’, especially from countries like Venezuela, Brazil, are ‘big business’ for the human traffickers or that simply if one of the ‘bosses’ likes one of the girls, they keep them,” he said.

Andrade stated that they have even doubted that these young women actually crossed the border or disappeared in Mexico.

In the case of Arias’ wife, he claims that the traffickers sent him a photo of the young woman demanding $6,000 to give her information about her whereabouts, claiming that the young woman was in the hands of a criminal group. However, it was a set-up

“Her family paid the money, yet they just lied to us, now they are again contacting her mom in El Salvador, but they don’t give any real proof that she is alive,” Arias said.

Daniel Hernandez, spokesman for the Border Patrol Tucson Sector, told EFE that every time they receive a report of a missing person, they send resources to begin the search.

“Unfortunately, immigrants are just ‘merchandise’ for human traffickers, we know they don’t have the heart to abandon them to their fate,” Hernandez said.

The federal agent noted that there have been reports of women being raped by the “coyote” while being transported.

In the midst of the current migration wave, both Desert Chaplains and the Border Patrol urge migrants not to risk their lives at the hands of coyotes.

Andrade warns women to try to stay in continuous contact with family members and call 911 if they are in danger, but advises them to try to file their asylum cases at ports of entry.