By Rocío Gallegos y Gabriela Minjares, La Verdad, Ciudad Juárez, México
In collaboration with Andrés Mazza y Christian Sánchez, El Mercurio, Ecuador

They vanished without a trace in Ciudad Juárez, on Mexico’s northern border. They left Ecuador, from different cities and on different dates, all with a common destination: the United States. Their faces, their photographs, are now being distributed throughout the Mexican border by a private legal consulting group for Ecuadorian migrants contacted by their relatives with the hope of locating them.

They are Carlos Eduardo López Quinapanta, 35, who has been missing since April 8, 2020; Jimmy Washington Morocho Reinoso, with whom the last contact was made on November 4; Cristian Lupercio, 21, and Evelin Quichimbo, 24, missing since November 2020.

Gonzalo Oswaldo Sarmiento Veintimilla, 45 years old, has been missing since March 12, 2021; Johanna Maribel Tapia, 33, disappeared on April 17, 2021; Claudio Ramón, 36, on July 27, 2021; Lizbeth Yolanda Topón Huiracocha, a trans man self-identified as Andrés Marqués, on August 28, 2021; José Luis Palate, 42, whom his family has been trying to locate since May; and Fredy Leonardo Marín Chacón, 37, who has not been heard from since June 2021. 

Their cases illustrate the victimization faced by migrants in this border community, where migrant shelter administrators estimate that eight out of every 10 migrants have experienced abuse, crime or human rights violations.

“Ciudad Juárez is a very difficult area for Ecuadorians, which causes a lot of anxiety, many problems… and disappearances,” says William Murillo, executive president of 1800Migrante, the organization that searches for missing migrants from Ecuador in this area that borders El Paso and Santa Teresa, N.M.

Data provided by the State Attorney General’s Office in Mexico (FGE) indicates that from 2018 to July 26, 2022, 260 missing persons of nationalities other than Mexican have been registered in the state of Chihuahua. Of that number, 157 have been found. The FGE said that not all of these people were migrants, and that 81 percent (210) of these cases occurred in the northern part of the state where Ciudad Juárez and two other municipalities are located.

A migrant from Ecuador who was trying to climb a hill in Ciudad Juárez to reach the United States suffered a fall and lost his life. (Photo by David Peinado Romero via Shutterstock)

More than half of the 103 people who are currently missing – 55 – are from Guatemala. The rest are from other Latin American countries. There are no specific records for the disappeared from Ecuador. The data states that, of the total number of foreign persons reported missing (260), 38 disappeared in 2018; 60 in 2019; 51 in 2020, and 95 in 2021.

As of July 26, 2022, there had been 16 cases reported.

Of those on the list of missing Ecuadorian migrants in Juárez documented by 1800Migrante, the FGE reports that they only have one disappearance report, Claudio Ramón, whose case has been closed. For the rest of the people being searched for by their relatives, no official report has been received. According to Murillo, this is due to problems with bureaucracy.

“We have a jurisdiction problem. Ecuadorians depend entirely on the government of Ecuador to do paperwork abroad,” he explains. “It’s very complicated because somebody must be physically present, and that’s almost impossible. So far, I have never heard of the Embassy filing a complaint on behalf of an Ecuadorian.”

During the more than 15 years that 1800Migrante has been searching for missing Ecuadorians in the region, they have been able to locate only one. That person was Washington Quizhpe, whose family lost track of him after he was deported from the United States through Ciudad Juárez. Washington, who suffers from a mental illness and is hearing impaired, was found wandering the streets near the border.

“He was in Ciudad Juárez, he had crossed the border and was deported. Then he was lost for about two months, wandering the streets, until someone found his ID, took a photo, and that helped us locate him,” Murillo says.

Ciudad Juárez city police took him to a clinic to be treated by medical professionals before handing him over to an organization that supports migrants in transit. Quizhpe received specialized medical treatment for his condition and crossed back into the United States legally to be reunited with his family in June 2021.

In these years of pro bono work, 1800Migrante has documented 146 cases of disappearances of Ecuadorians in Mexico, most of them on the U.S.-Mexico border, in the area bordering Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Murillo said. More than a dozen of them were registered in the last two years, mainly in Ciudad Juárez.

“I once said that Ciudad Juárez is the capital of extortion, kidnapping and disappearance for Ecuadorians in Mexico,” Murillo said. “I stand by that statement because there are many Ecuadorians who find themselves in those situations.”

Searching for the Disappeared

Lizbeth Yolanda Topón

Age: 20
From: Cuenca, Ecuador
Reported missing: August 28, 2021

Juan Pablo Condemaita Guayan

Age: 30
From: Ambato, Ecuador
Reported missing: Sept. 10, 2021

Juan Pablo Chillogalli

Age: 38
From: Cuenca, Ecuador
Reported missing: Oct. 11, 2021

José Luis Palate

Age: 42
From: Ambato, Ecuador
Reported missing: May 28, 2021

Johanna Tapia

Age: 33
From: Guayaquil, Ecuador
Reported missing: April 17, 2021

Evelin Quichimbo

Age: 24
From: Azuay, Ecuador
Reported missing: November 27, 2020

Cristian Lupercio

Age: 21
From: Cuenca, Ecuador
Reported missing: Nov. 27, 2020

Claudio Ramón

Age: 36
From: Dandán, Ecuador
Reported missing: July 27, 2021

Carlos Eduardo López Quinapanta

Age: 35
From: Ambato, Ecuador
Reported missing: April 8, 2020

This collaborative investigation by El Mercurio in Ecuador and La Verdad Juárez was produced with the support of InquireFirst.

End of the Road

Abandoned by three countries, a teenager disappears amid bureaucracy and neglect