Police officers, at least one member of the National Guard and a prison guard have fled to Tijuana in recent months to escape the tentacles of organized crime.
The newspaper El Universal visited a migrants’ shelter in the northern border city where approximately 10 police officers, a guardsman and a female prison guard took refuge after fleeing notoriously violent states such as Guanajuato, Guerrero and Michoacán.
They left their homes to avoid death or forced recruitment by criminal groups, the newspaper said. Most if not all traveled to Tijuana to seek asylum in the United States.
The director of the shelter, who wasn’t identified for security reasons, said police and other internal migrants flee their homes because no one protects them in the face of threats from organized crime. He said that an auxiliary part of the shelter has been set aside for such people, some of whom travel to Tijuana with their families.
One such person is Alicia, a former prison guard, who left Michoacán almost a year ago with her children, a nephew and her mother. She gave up her job to save her life and that of her family, El Universal said, adding that she planned to seek asylum in the United States.
“I was very good at what I did, it was my vocation,” Alicia said. However, being a prison guard is “almost a death sentence,” she said.
“… We proudly wear a uniform that exposes us, it’s not fair,” Alicia said.
She explained that she had to quit her job because inmates were pressuring her to allow them to receive drugs, as other guards did. Because some of her colleagues allowed drugs to flow into the jail, Alicia said, the prisoners felt like they had the right to tell her what to do.
In the middle of last year, about six months after she left her job at the prison, Alicia and her brother were abducted from their home by members of a criminal group that operates in their town, El Universal said, without identifying the group or the town. The aim of the armed men was not to kill them but force them to work for them.
“We’re going to send you to train,” Alicia recalls the men telling her and her brother after they were taken to a hilltop they were beaten. They were released but armed men subsequently monitored their movements for weeks. Alicia began to plan her escape.
She told El Universal that she didn’t want to travel north by bus out of fear that criminals would stop it and set the passengers on fire. She waited until she was no longer being followed and traveled with her family to an airport – presumably that in the state capital Morelia – to take a flight to Tijuana.
While Alicia and some of her family members escaped the violence that plagued their town, her sister remained at home and was abducted earlier this year. She remains missing.
Alicia told El Universal she hopes she and her family can have a future without threats in the United States. The newspaper didn’t say whether they have filed an application for asylum.
“… I didn’t want to leave [Michoacán], I wanted to stay. My boss at the prison gave me a letter of recommendation in case I wanted to return one day but [with the way things are] how can I? [How can I go back] if they abducted my sister, my mom is almost dying of sadness and my brother and I were almost killed?”
With reports from El Universal