Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Since 1993, the mutilated corpses of over 400 young women, all of them rape victims, have turned up in the outskirts of the Mexican city. If you Mapquest directions from El Paso, Texas, to Ciudad Juarez, the distances are given to you in feet, the less-than-one-mile drive stated as taking “approximately three minutes.” But proximity isn’t the only connection that the United States has with this Mexican border town. The state of Chihuahua alone is home to nearly 400 Maquilas, plants where American companies can take advantage of cheap Mexican labor, much of it female, and have their products assembled for an average wage of $1.98 an hour. Further, many American companies set up shop in Juarez and similar Mexican cities for precisely the same reasons. There they operate under a different name, pretending not to be a multibillion-dollar U.S. corporation, and paying little attention to the treatment—to the very survival—of their own underpaid employees.
It has become clear in recent years that this labor is far too cheap, and that the laborers are viewed as being far too expendable and easy to replace. The authorities of Ciudad Juarez are reminiscent of those seen in stereotypical movies about Mexico: Generally speaking, they are corrupt and accountable to no one, easily bought or bribed for the right price. Forensic evidence is often “misplaced,” individual cases are often ignored or overlooked, and the deaths of well more than 400 innocent rape-murder victims remain unsolved, and likely to remain so. Yet this appears to be insufficient provocation for inspiring action on the part of the Mexican federal authorities, or by the American companies with a great vested financial interest in Ciudad Juarez.
The atmosphere of apathy toward these most egregious of crimes must be looked at from two perspectives. On the one hand, why would we expect a government known for its internal corruption and a general lack of regard for the well-being of its citizens to take any action on behalf of poor, uneducated women? On the other hand, however, how on earth can the United States, a country best known for its foreign policy of defense and intervention in other countries, possibly stand on the sidelines, a stone’s throw from the city in which we are so heavily invested, and watch as some of the most brutal crimes imaginable are exercised upon innocent, defenseless young women? It is the sort of crime that, by its very nature, inspires reaction and action, if not the gag reflex, and should stir the heart of every person so fortunate as not to live in an environment that breeds such hatred and violence amongst its inhabitants.
America is an amazing country, and her citizens should be as proud as a human being can be of anything. But there is not one person who chose to be born in this country. To be proud of being a native-born American is similar to being proud of having naturally blond hair or dark skin or green eyes. It is not a decision that anyone makes (where they are born), but simply a matter of luck. If anything, we ought to have the utmost respect for those who are willing to fight to live here, to risk everything they have to become what we are by sheer virtue of our birth. But instead, too often, people push them away, shun and dehumanize them to the extent that they are referred to callously as “those people,” or “them,” even by our legislators. We exhaust our resources trying to keep Mexicans out of our great country—a country founded by immigrants in need of change, fleeing tyrannical governments in the name of creating something better.
This amazing country is the product of people much like those who today risk their lives to try to cross the Rio Grande, and yet from our lofty vantage point atop Mount Liberty, we seem to see no further reason for allowing the inspired and inspirational to continue to enter our incredible country. Even if, by not allowing them to do so, it may cost them their very lives. The right to life, after all, is viewed as one of those “certain and inalienable” rights by American citizens, but it seems to be a right that we think only American citizens should possess.
What is to be done about a catastrophe of this sort? Do we pull forces away from the already undermanned Operation Iraqi Freedom in order to launch a full-scale invasion of a Mexican border town? Probably not. But like so many other foreign countries around the globe, Mexico is a nation with an economy heavily invested and in some senses dependent upon the United States. They often turn to us for aid, and they benefit greatly from the involvement of our companies’ incognito presence within their borders. Nearly 1.2 million Mexicans are employed in the over 2,800 maquilas that exist in Mexico, responsible for nearly $112 billion in gross production that is taking place, not in the United States, but just south of here. As recently as June 20, attorneys and activists working to put a stop to the killings in Ciudad Juarez have had their lives threatened in emails and text messages sent to their mobile telephones. While Amnesty International has urged a full-scale and impartial investigation of these threats, there seems minimal hope that the threats, or the rape-murder spree that has plagued the community since 1993, will subside anytime soon.
It has been said that Americans do not value human life, but rather, that they care only about American life, and about themselves. But in the instance of Ciudad Juarez, this trend of depraved indifference toward non-American lives can and should be put to a screeching halt. The attorneys and activists who have been threatened for their interest and action in Ciudad Juarez have been targeted in large part because they are a small minority, and stand nearly alone with no reinforcement in their plight to save so many young women from such horrible, criminal deaths. These fighters need us to stand behind them. Mexico needs to hear from the United States, from our congressmen and from our Congress. They need to hear that their blind eyes and deaf ears toward those without influence in their nation will no longer be tolerated so long as they rely upon America for aid and support, allowing us to generate such a large part of their otherwise stagnant national economy. America is still an influential nation, in spite of our recent follies in foreign policy, and when we stand united, we remain a source of action and an agent of change in a rapidly deteriorating world.
To contact your representatives about taking action in Ciudad Juarez, do a quick Google search of their name to find their personal page, or locate them at www.us.gov. You can send email, write them a letter or, in many instances, call their office directly. The power of the United States, the greatest nation in the world, a nation that people like those in Ciudad Juarez and so many other Mexican cities risk their lives daily just to enter, must not be limited to our immense and mighty military and technological capabilities. The United States is a nation of diplomats and thinkers, a nation with immeasurable world influence which can be put to great use on behalf of those without such good fortune. So much is wrong with the world, but if we the strong are willing to unite against corruption and murder on behalf of all humanity, regardless of birthrights or social class or race, then perhaps we can take the first steps toward making a positive difference in a world that seems to have long since forgotten that there is a God.