Two teenage boys from Honduras who traveled with the migrant caravan that marched toward the US were killed in Tijuana, an incident that advocates say highlights the dangers migrants face on the Mexican side of the border.
The strangled and stabbed bodies of the two Honduran boys, ages 16 and 17, were found on Saturday, state prosecutors said. The pair had left the youth shelter they were staying at and were headed to another shelter when they were lured into a room by a woman and killed in a robbery.
On Wednesday, state prosecutors in Tijuana said two men and a woman were arrested for their role in the deaths of the two boys. Authorities described the boys as unaccompanied minors, who became friends at the shelter in part because they had no family with them.
A third teenager who was with the group managed to escape by telling the suspects he would go get money for them.
Their deaths come as the Trump administration pushes Mexican officials to agree to allow migrants stay in Mexico while their asylum cases are completed in the US. It’s unknown if the two boys had tried to request asylum in the US or if they intended to.
Nicole Ramos, the Tijuana-based director of the border rights project for Al Otro Lado and who focuses on refugees seeking asylum in the US, has been critical of efforts to limit the number of asylum-seekers on a daily basis at border crossings. The practice, called metering, has resulted in a months-long backlog of asylum-seekers in Tijuana, and a government report found that it pushes some migrants to cross the border illegally.
"This case is a prime example of the dangers faced by unaccompanied children, and why CBP should not be impeding the most vulnerable of asylum seekers from accessing the legal and protection systems which can literally save their lives," Ramos said in a statement.
Megan McKenna, senior director of communications and community engagement at KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), who was in Tijuana last week, spoke with kids in shelters and said it was likely that the two boys intended to seek asylum. All of the children McKenna met in shelters told her they wanted some type of refuge in the US, but were waiting for their turn to ask for asylum.
"The United States is preventing them from asking for protection," McKenna told BuzzFeed News. "They're in a very dangerous limbo and we can see what happens when they wait."
State prosecutor Jorge Álvarez told reporters at a press conference that the two teenagers and a third victim who survived were approached by a woman asking about a lost dog. The three continued a conversation that then led to an invitation, from the woman, for sex.
Álvarez said the three teens followed the woman into a room where they were supposed to meet more of her female friends, but were instead ambushed by the two men.
“Everything indicates that the motive was robbery,” Álvarez said.
Authorities believe the suspects didn’t know the three boys were part of the migrant caravan that had arrived in Tijuana.
At one point, one of the suspects asked the victims, “Where’s the check?” indicating they believed the boys were locals and might have been carrying cash.
The robbery took a violent turn, Álvarez said, and the two male suspects attacked the three migrants, using some sort of a tourniquet to strangle all three victims. The third victim was able to escape, he said, after promising to return with more cash for the assailants.
“At one point he said, ‘Let me go and I’ll bring you money,’ but in reality, the kid was looking for a chance to escape,” Álvarez said.
The two male attackers, and the woman who lured the teenagers, were taken into custody by police Thursday. One of the men, Álvarez said, was wearing the clothes of one of the victims.
“It was an unfortunate situation,” he said.