For the most part life along the 3,000 kilometer border between the United States and Mexico is peaceful and orderly, with billions of dollars in commerce flowing both ways every year. But drug trafficking and other crimes are also flourishing on the border and there have been several incidents in which U.S. citizens visiting Mexico were either killed or injured by criminals. There are also dozens of cases of U.S. citizens who crossed over the border never to be seen again. VOA's Greg Flakus visited with the families of some of the disappeared and filed this report from Laredo, Texas.
At a home in a quiet neighborhood in Laredo, a group of desperate and distraught people sit down together to share information and seek mutual support. They are family members of people who went over the nearby border, into the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, and never returned.
Out of the 40-some cases in which U.S. citizens vanished without a trace in the area, one of the most publicized is that of two young, attractive women who went to a late-night concert on the Mexican side and have not been seen since. Two years ago, Brenda Cisneros and her friend Yvette Martinez went over the border to celebrate Brenda's 23rd birthday. A few hours later, they spoke to a friend on a cell phone and said they were close to the international bridge and would be home soon. But they never returned.
Brenda's father, Pablo Cisneros, says his heart aches for his daughter and that he wants to see her again before his days on earth are over.
Pablo says he and the stepfather of Yvette Martinez found her car in a Nuevo Laredo police yard, even though police officials had told him that they had no information about the two young women. He says the police there all work for criminal organizations.
Brenda's mother, Priscilla Cisneros, says she does not care who took her daughter or why, she has no interest in reprisal, she only wants her only daughter back.
Most of the people in the family support group are Mexican-Americans who speak fluent Spanish and, in many cases, have relatives in Mexico or other ties across the border. But they say neither the U.S. nor Mexican governments have helped much.
The families of the disappeared have gotten moral support from Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, a former FBI agent. But he says there is little he can do. "We don't have any authority, you know, in Mexico. We can go over there as visitors and we can ask and try to get their cooperation, but it is a different country. We have to abide by their laws. I cannot go tramping into Mexico and start conducting investigations," he explained.
Mexican President Vicente Fox has sent hundreds of federal agents and even army troops to Nuevo Laredo to quell violence and crime there, but they have not found the missing U.S. citizens.
At a recent bilateral meeting of U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials held in Laredo, both sides pledged increased cooperation in the fight against criminal gangs. But the families of the disappeared remain distraught.
Danielle Ortiz, whose husband is among the missing, notes that much attention is focused on identifying the bodies of Mexican immigrants who die trying to cross illegally into the United States so that the remains can be returned to the families. She says she would like to see a similar effort to identify bodies authorities have found in Mexico.
The families of Laredo's disappeared have banded together to seek public help. They operate a web site on the Internet called LaredosMissing.com, through which they provide photos and information about their lost loved ones.
They are not alone in their misery, however. They say they know of around 400 cases of Mexicans who have disappeared in recent years and their families feel the same pain, not knowing if their sons, daughters or spouses are alive or dead or if they will ever be found.