By JULIO MORALES
Staff Writer, Copy Editor
2:30 AM EDT, April 17, 2013
MEXICALI – The stream of Central American immigrants that treks through Mexico on the way to the United States are the face of a “humanitarian disaster” that hardly anyone seems to notice, said Father Alejandro Solalinde.
Years of working closely with these immigrants at the Catholic Pastoral Care Centre for Migrants in Ixtepec, Guerrero, Mexico, have also left Solalinde no doubt of where the problem lies.
“They are a symptom of a serious systematic problem,” he said in Spanish.
A liberal capitalist economy, indifferent public and religious officials, and an unconcerned Mexican population are all partly to blame for the immigrants’ plight, Solalinde told a small crowd Tuesday at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, in Mexicali.
“It has turned Mexico into a cemetery,” Solalinde said, referring to the number of Central American immigrants who fall victim to violence while migrating through Mexico.
In 2010 more than 11,000 immigrants were kidnapped nationwide, according to an investigation by Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights.
In an effort to further raise awareness of the immigrants’ circumstances, Solalinde will lead a caravan from San Diego to Washington, D.C. starting on April 29. Along with the Coalition Humanitaria International Pro-immigrant, he is raising funds to reopen the shelter that was closed in the municipality of Tultitlan in the state of Mexico.
“Humanity has been orphaned by the government and is no longer a priority,” he said.
Misplaced priorities also led Solalinde to criticize the Catholic Church, although he said the newly elected Pope Francis does give him guarded optimism.
“It should attend to all people,” he said, “but its priority should be poor people.”
Such public criticism has made Solalinde, the recipient of Mexico’s 2012 National Human Rights Award, something of a celebrity. It has also made him a target of death threats.
Yet, Solalinde on Tuesday didn’t shy away from publicly accusing a high-level Guerrero official of having connections to drug traffickers and a prominent Guerrero landowner of having committed electoral fraud.
Turning his critical eye north, Solalinde also called the 2008 Merida Initiative between the U.S. and Mexico a “disgrace” that has resulted in the trampling of the human rights of Central American migrants.
The initiative, which resulted in about $1.4 billion in U.S. government funding to Mexico and Central America, was intended to help fight organized crime and improve security.
Nor is he expecting much from the current legislative debate over immigration reform in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a product of a legislative process and not conscientious thinking,” Solalinde said.
Improving the lives of the world’s migrants must stem from a return to mankind’s humanity, and a restored faith in a higher power, Solalinde said.
A longtime supporter of humanitarian causes, Brawley resident John Hernandez said he is in complete agreement with Solalinde’s assessment and made the trip to Mexicali to hear the Catholic priest speak.
As someone who was deeply influenced by his grandmother’s empathy and charity, Hernandez said he has devoted his life to helping those less fortunate.
As president of Our Roots, an El Centro-based multicultural center, Hernandez also makes an effort to ensure latter generations of Latinos don’t forget the challenges their forefathers may have encountered while immigrating to America.
“I try to remind them so they don’t forget that part of their humanity,” Hernandez said in Spanish.
Yet, working toward a more humane world requires patience.
“The results aren’t immediate,” Hernandez said, “but we get them.”
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at email@example.com