Published on Sunday, May 28, 2000 in the Independent/UK
Ranchers Gun Down Mexican Migrant In Search Of American Dream
by Jan Mcgirk

San Felipe De Torres Mochas, Mexico - The body of Eusebio De Haro was sent back from Texas in a sky blue casket last Friday. A rancher's bullet had struck the 22-year-old in the groin, and he bled to death on the roadside while an elderly American couple, instead of phoning an ambulance, called in the county authorities to deal with the nuisance of trespassers.

His family's grief is still raw. There's a limp black ribbon tied over the De Haros' front door which signifies that the household is in mourning.

From the patio, prayers and soft weeping are barely audible as the six sisters and seven brothers replay a video tape of the funeral at top volume.

This features plenty of shaky close-ups taken inside the open coffin. "His body was all banged up. And look, there's a bit of his ear missing. Maybe another bullet grazed him there," observes Susana, 17, who has grabbed the remote from one of her boisterous brothers and put the tape on pause. Later, some brothers will dare their cousins to scramble over the graveyard wall after hours and visit the new tomb, hung with wreaths and a bright Virgin of Guadalupe. They can't quite believe their big brother is gone.

Eusebio left his parents and 13 siblings earlier this month to "go north", with hopes of earning high wages on a building site somewhere across the Rio Grande. "Chebo", as he was nicknamed, had been helping out at his father's pyrotechnic plant for six years, packing rockets to order for local fiestas, but lately he'd started yearning for big bucks and his own set of wheels.

His younger brother, Diego, just 19, took his place on the family assembly line; the other children's ages range from four to 21. Chebo planned to send money home regularly, since family finances had been drained for little brother Gustavo's five years of plastic surgery. The boy was badly burned at age four when a firework exploded beside him, and the insurance policy failed to cover all the expense of treatment, which left the boy with rippled scars over 60 per cent of his body.

Most of the debt is cleared. But now, friends and relations must chip in to pay off the $2,000 (£1,350) freight charge owed for transporting Chebo's patched-up corpse back to San Felipe de Torres Mochas.

The town of San Felipe sits on a crossroads, with long vistas of rumpled brown hills punctured by cactus plants. It is as far from the capital as it is from Texas, and feels like the back of beyond. Younger thrill-seekers, who spurn old-fashioned cockfights, must wait for religious festival nights when Pasiano De Haro, 41, and his boys light up the sky with their precision displays. With summer saints' days coming up, grief cannot interfere with the factory work schedule. But every evening for nine nights, the family will recite a rosary over a candlelit cross of white petals, spread out on the cement floor of their bedroom.

Afterwards, trays of fizzy drinks will be passed around. The oldest sisters will handle the washing-up without protest. It gives them something to do.

Pasiano De Haro is determined to file a complaint about his son's death and must travel to a consulate in Piedras Negras, across from Texas. But he has little hope of getting any compensation. "What we want is justice," he says, squeezing the hand of his wife, Mercedes. "This man, Sam Blackwood, slaughtered my boy like an animal and must be punished.

"His companion [Javier Sanchez, who crossed the border with Chebo] told police that they were thirsty after so much walking and approached an old couple for water. They refused. This couple then pursued the boys in a pick-up, firing away. Chebo was not shot on private property. He died without dignity. It makes us feel so bad we must do something. For the others – it's too late for us."

Chebo's uncle, Jorge De Haro, who works as a customs official on the Mexican side of the frontier at Laredo, gathered this information about his nephew's fate. If not for his efforts, the family might not have been informed at all because Chebo carried no identification.

With the number of economic migrants from Mexico having tripled in the past five years, and the usual crossing points fenced off, tempers along the border ranches are at flashpoint. Confrontations between rednecks and "wetbacks" – known in official parlance as "armed property owners" and "undocumented aliens" – have been mounting.

A Mexican drifter, called the Railroad Killer, has just given a death sentence after murdering nine Americans. Plenty of illegal aliens have vanished, too. Tall tales circulate that Mexican bodies get tossed into the river every night, maybe after organs have been harvested to sell to ailing Americans. Chebo's grandmother is convinced it's all true. The family is relieved that Chebo was brave enough to set out without the pricey services of a "coyote" guide, so they are not even more out of pocket. "There are Americans who retire in San Miguel, up the road, because their money goes further here. We don't bother them. So on their side, why can't they treat us like humans?" wonders his mother, Mercedes. "In the States, people are rich but very soft. If not for us Mexicans, the harvest would rot in their fields. They need us. All we want is a chance to work."

Mexican diplomats complained in Washington about the deaths and injuries to migrants captured near the border. Rosario Green, the foreign minister, estimates that more than 450 Mexicans have been seized at gunpoint by unauthorised US citizens and turned over to immigration in the past year. The De Haros hope that, with presidential elections on both sides of the frontier, politicians might pay attention to this case. The Blackwood's remote ranch is in Texas, George W Bush's home state, and San Felipe is located in Guanajuato, where the Mexican presidential challenger, Vicente Fox, hails from.

"Killing my boy won't stop people with dreams from coming," Mr De Haro says. "The Americans taught us no lessons with this brutality. Just that they have lost their humanity."

2000 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.