By Blanca Carmona/La Verdad

Third of a four-part series

CIUDAD JUAREZ – For a few days, Lesby and her husband, Félix, believed they had already crossed the border, that at last, after a long journey from Honduras, they were in El Paso, Texas.

It was all a scam. Separately, husband and wife attested to the authorities in the Chihuahua District Attorney’s Office how members of a migrant trafficking network kept them captive and extorted thousands of dollars from their relatives, under the threat that the couple would be murdered. El Paso Matters is not publishing their full names to protect them from retaliation.

This is the story of Lesby and Félix, and their daughters, one and five years old, who lived in Ciudad Juárez under the watch of a group of “polleros,” which is what human traffickers are called.

“We were in Honduras, where we’re from, and we decided to come to Mexico, specifically to Ciudad Juárez, in order to cross the border into the United States and request asylum. We arrived in Ciudad Juárez on Sept. 18 (2020) and immediately set out for El Paso, Texas, where we were denied entry,” Lesby said to authorities of the kidnapping unit, Unidad de Atención al Delito de Secuestro.

“We went to cross the border through the river, and on U.S. soil a patrol car saw us, and took us to immigration … we were denied,” Félix said.

En español: Lea el informe de La Verdad sobre la violencia contra migrantes en México
Part one: Migrants blocked from the United States are frequent victims of crime in Mexico
Part two: The police sold us to the mafia
Part four: $3,000 for their freedom

Relatives in Los Angeles contacted a group of “polleros” who, for $5,800, promised to get them into the United States, according to the couple’s court testimony at the Tribunal de Control, headquartered in Ciudad Juárez. 

In September 2020, the family left their native Honduras driven by the desire to seek asylum in the north. They arrived at this border on Sept. 18, and without a thought, took a route across the Rio Grande, but they were immediately returned to Mexico.

Finding themselves homeless, Lesby contacted her father, who lives in Houston. He was able to locate an acquaintance who lives in Juárez who had them stay in his home for 10 days.

During this period, Lesby’s family was able to find, remotely, a group of traffickers who would supposedly help them cross the border illegally into the United States.

The traffickers took Lesby, Félix and their two daughters to a yet-to-be located warehouse, where the Honduran family saw dozens of beds and lots of people from all over Latin America who also dreamt of getting to the United States, as they told the authorities in their testimony.

“We tried to cross, but they wanted us to jump over the wall and, given my family’s situation, we couldn’t do it and they only had others cross over,” Lesby said to the judge on Nov. 6, after being held captive with her family by this group of “polleros”.

On the morning of Nov. 3, when Lesby and Félix refused to enter the U.S. by jumping off the metal fence, which is about 10 meters tall, the “polleros” decided to turn them over to a second group of traffickers.

Their first contact with the new “coyotes,” as migrant traffickers are also called, was in the early hours of Nov. 3. They were put into a car and rode for 40 minutes to a deserted and dark area. There the person who identified himself as the guide and the family got out of the car.

The man ordered them to turn their cell phones over to another person, supposedly because drones could detect a signal, as well as their wallets, Lesby and Félix stated in their testimony.

Carrying one daughter each, they walked across an area strewn with trash, metal rods and thorns, they said. They went through what they say were underground tunnels, until they came to a fence that was already cut open, which they had to go through to enter a waterway that came up to their hips.

After completing this route, they were led to believe they were in El Paso.

“We came out and the guide told us that we were in El Paso, Texas. We kept walking, for about an hour,” Lesby said. Then a man called “el gordito” picked them up in the same blue-gray car they had ridden in before.

“They took us to the motel, and when we got there, we looked out the window and saw the signage and we thought it was odd that everything was in Spanish. We started to suspect we were not in the United States,” Lesby said a few hours after she was rescued from the kidnappers who had held her and her husband and two daughters.

After that, the traffickers started to threaten Lesby and Félix, as well as their relatives, who live in the United States, from whom the kidnappers demanded different amounts of ransom in exchange for not killing the family.

On Nov. 4, the migrants were again put into the trunk of a car to take them to a second motel. There, when their watchman was distracted, Félix was able to speak with one of the staff at the motel to ask if they were in El Paso. The answer was no, which crushed the couple.

Seeing Lesby cry and observing unusual movements in the motel room, the motel staff decided to call the police. Public safety agents arrived, rescued the Honduran family and arrested the group of “polleros.”

On Nov. 6, a local person stated to the Public Ministry that two days before they had rented room 117 to people in a Versa car and then saw unusual movements of cars going to that room.

In addition, the same person said that a day before, when they approached the guests to say their time was up in that room, one of the guests came back to pay for the room six hours later and minutes after that, through a window, a man had asked them “what town are we in?” The person replied they were in Ciudad Juárez.

When the person tried to add to their answer, they saw a woman through the window signaling to please be quiet and they heard several children crying.

This person thought this was very strange and decided to report it. That is how municipal police agents got to the motel, opened the curtain of the room and arrested two alleged “polleros” and rescued the migrant family.

The people who were arrested, Víctor Iván T. B., and Eytzel Verónica C.G., were charged with the felony of aggravated kidnapping.

This story was produced as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a binational partnership of news organizations in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.