by Tom Ramstack
A caravan of private vehicles carrying Central Americans is traveling through Mexico this week searching for their relatives who disappeared while headed toward an illegal entry into the United States.
They entered Mexico from Guatemala Sunday on a route that will take them through dangerous territory where drug cartel violence is common.
They are stopping at homeless shelters, jails and hospitals along the route to ask whether anyone has seen their displaced relatives. They carry photographs of the lost persons.
They also march through streets carrying signs demanding immigration reform and along railroad tracks frequently traveled by immigrants.
Some of their protest slogans are aimed at President Barack Obama, who they say should reform U.S. laws to avoid abuses of illegal immigrants.
The group plans to meet with Mexican federal and local lawmakers to ask their assistance.
An estimated 11,300 Central and South Americans disappeared en route to the United States, according to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission.
About half of them were from Honduras. Many others came from Guatemala and El Salvador.
The group that includes about 35 mothers of missing immigrants is led by clergymen and activists. They call their group the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement.
They have made the trip into Mexico every year since at least 2006, claiming to have found 57 missing persons during their treks.
This year is different only because they have chosen a more dangerous route along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The area is notorious for murders, kidnappings, rapes and robberies of Central Americans hoping to slip into the United States as illegal immigrants.
About 11 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, according to the U.S. government statistics.
One of the best known attacks against immigrants occurred in August 2010, when the bodies of 72 mostly Central and South Americans were found in a rural area at San Fernando, Tamaulipas. They were allegedly murdered by assassins of the Zetas drug cartel.
The Zetas reportedly targeted them after they refused to assist the drug cartel in its smuggling and assassinations of enemies.
During their stop at San Fernando, the caravan travelers plan to build an altar to memorialize the murdered immigrants.
The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement is scheduled to meet with officials from Mexico's National Migration Institute to discuss their demand for greater respect of immigrants.
Marta Sanchez, a spokesperson for the group, said the caravan also creates "solidarity" with Mexican people.
The caravan is scheduled for a two-week trip through nine Mexican states.
Their pleas for respect are far different than the growing outrage in the United States against illegal immigrants.
U.S. prisons report Hispanics are now the ethnic group with the most people being sent to prison, largely from criminal prosecutions of immigrants who crossed the border illegally more than once.
Felony prosecutions for immigration crimes rose 42 percent in Obama's first two years in office. In the fiscal year that ended last month, deportations reached a record level of nearly 400,000, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
While federal officials argue about a solution, Alabama and Arizona have taken on illegal immigration themselves by passing laws that authorize local police to arrest foreigners who cannot prove they are legally in the United States.
"Families of Illegal Immigrants Search for Lost Relatives in Mexico"