Families, activists keep alive memory of 19 immigrants
May 12, 2012 at 12:12 a.m.
Updated May 13, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.
A Victoria committee called Federación Potosina maintains the memorial for the 19 illegal immigrants who died on Fleming Prairie Road. They keep flowers fresh and add to the clothing, candles, notes and more that mark where the men, women and children died. Also posted is a list of their names and available ages:
• Jose Felicito Figueroa Gutierrez
• Catarino Gonzalez Merino
• Mateo Salgado Perez
• Chelve Benitez Jaramillo
• Rogelio Dominguez Benitez
• Hector Ramirez Robles, 34
• Jorge Mauricio Torres Herrera, 15
• Roberto Rivera Gámez, 24
• Serafin Rivera Gámez, 34
• Elisendo Cabanas González, 27
• Marco Antonio Villaseñor Acuña, 5
• José Antonio Villaseñor Acuña, 31
• Edgar Gabriel Hernández Zúñiga, 17
• Juan Carlos Castillo Loredo, 20
• Ricardo González Mata, 24
• Oscar González Guerrero, 18
• José Luis Ramirez Bravo, 21
• Juan José Morales, 24
• Augusto Stanley Vargas, 31
A 3-year-old's black and bouncy ringlets fell on Ana Torres' face as the mother gave her daughter a hard kiss on the cheek.
"She has an uncle in heaven," Torres said she tells her daughter, Ashley. "He's taking care of her all the time."
Torres' brother, Jorge Torres, was 15 when he was smothered in the back of an abandoned 18-wheeler on Fleming Prairie Road near U.S. Highway 77. He and 18 other illegal immigrants died that day, May 14, 2003, in the nation's deadliest human trafficking case.
Every year since, the Torres family and other loved ones, activists and supporters come to the memorial where the immigrants, one as young as 5, perished. Among crosses, rosaries, prayers and flowers, the group seeks to keep their memories alive.
"It's sad, but at the same time, we want to be close to him. It's a special time," Torres said in Spanish.
Her brother, who was from El Salvador, was a social, happy, community-oriented teenager, Torres, 30, said. His family knew he was planning to move to the United States but had no idea he was one of the more than 70 people inside the sweltering trailer they saw while watching the news.
Torres and her family live in Houston, and they, along with about 30 others gathered at Saturday's memorial, hope the deaths of the 19 can be a reminder of the need for immigration reform.
"The people have the power to fight. We don't want it to happen again. Sometimes time passes, and we forget about tragedies," said Martha Olvera, who comes to the memorial every year.
Those who spoke at the memorial time and again said the United States is a place of opportunity, and they called on each other to remember their rights as part of the human race and the duty to fight for a quality life for all.
"Some families don't have a voice. Sometimes they don't have people to tell them, 'Don't be afraid'," said Olvera, 57. "We can raise the bar ... We need to educate our community."
Along with families and activists, Luis Benjamin Lara Escobedo, the consul for protection and legal affairs with the Mexican consulate, came for the first time to show his respect for the victims. The Rev. Stan DeBoe, with Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, led the Lord's Prayer in Spanish and sprinkled holy water on the memorial.
With the early-afternoon heat beating down, the blessed refreshment fell on a monument boasting dozens of crosses.
"How many more must die? Ni uno más," (not one more) it read.