BROWNSVILLE, Texas — LGBTQ activists in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley have rallied behind two brothers who are victims of human trafficking.
The brothers, who fled violence in their country of origin, were kidnapped by human traffickers in Mexico in August.
Cindy Candia, a volunteer with Angry Tias and Abuelas, a group that assists migrants and asylum seekers in the Rio Grande Valley, previously ran a local PFLAG chapter with her husband. She told the Washington Blade on Monday the traffickers brought them and two other men to the Rio Grande and forced them to swim across the river and enter the U.S. Candia said they were then forced into the trunk of a car where they remained for two hours in stifling heat.
The Mexico-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Candia said the brothers did not eat anything during the two weeks they were being held.
She told the Blade the the traffickers released the brothers and the two other men on a dirt road outside of Brownsville, which is across the Rio Grande from the Mexican border city of Matamoros. Candia said the older brother was suffering from acute heat stroke after spending two hours in the car’s trunk.
“(The younger brother) dragged his brother to a main street where he flagged somebody down and they drove them to the hospital,” said Candia, who noted the older brother was also suffering from severe malnutrition.
The hospital did not allow the younger brother to stay because of the pandemic. Candia told the Blade the traffickers kidnapped him again at a nearby gas station.
“They picked him up again, and kept him for two weeks,” she said.
Candia told the Blade the traffickers extorted around $10,000 from the brothers’ family.
‘We’re giving them whatever they need’
Sergio Cordova of Team Brownsville, a group founded by two gay men that cooks food for migrants who live in a camp in Matamoros and provides them with sleeping bags and other basic items, learned about the brothers’ plight when a nurse at the hospital where the older brother was being treated called him.
Team Brownsville co-founder Mike Benavides on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that his group paid for a hotel room for the younger brother and drove him to the hospital each day to visit his brother. Benavides said Team Brownsville volunteers also brought the younger brother food.
“We’re giving them whatever they need,” he said.
The older brother is no longer in the hospital and is currently living with his younger brother. They have asked for asylum in the U.S. because they are human trafficking victims.
The Blade has chosen not to name the brothers, their country of origin or their current location in order to ensure their safety.
Candia told the Blade the older brother still has a feeding tube in his stomach and needs physical, cognitive and occupational therapy to recover. Oscar Raúl Lopez, founder of Poderosos.org, an HIV/AIDS service organization in the Rio Grande Valley, is finalizing a fundraising campaign for the brothers.
“If anybody knows what it’s like to lose your home of origin, your family, to feel displaced, it’s definitely the LGBT Latino community,” Lopez told the Blade on Tuesday when asked why he decided to help the brothers.
Candia became emotional when she talked about the brothers.
“I’m a mom,” said Candia.
Trump policy forces asylum seekers to remain in Mexico
The Blade in January reported from the Rio Grande Valley and Matamoros.
The Trump administration’s “return to Mexico” policy forces asylum seekers to await the outcome of their cases in Mexico. Benavides, Lopez and other activists in the Rio Grande Valley and Matamoros with whom the Blade has spoken say MPP and the White House’s overall immigration policy has placed asylum seekers and migrants even more vulnerable to traffickers.
“The MPP wait has become more than they can bear and they are going to those extremes of risking their lives,” Benavides told the Blade on Tuesday. “People are getting so desperate and it’s our own country’s fault.”
Candia said she and other volunteers who work with asylum seekers in the Matamoros camp tell them “not to give up.”
“We tell them not to give up and to keep going and we’re here for them and there’s lots of people in this country that want them here because a lot of people are giving up,” she said. “I didn’t want the boys to give up.”
“They’ve been through so much,” added Candia. “They deserve to be here.”