I was in federal court the other day for an immigration story and interviewed a woman who, through her tears, spoke of the desperate plight of relatives in Mexico's Mormon colonies.
The colonies in the state of Chihauhau have been in the news of late as commentators reflect on Republican nominee-candidate Mitt Romney's Mexican father and his Hispanic roots.
Univision recently did a story in which colony relatives painted Romney as unconnected with his Mexican roots. Julian LeBaron, who has been fighting for protection for the colonies, labels offensive what he terms Romney's persecution of immigrants -- for example, that he'd veto the Dream Act if elected -- given the roots of persecution that drove his polygamous ancestors to flee to the open arms of Mexico.
Surprisingly, the story doesn't touch on the violence that has besieged the colonies in the last few years.
The woman I interviewed yesterday told of how her mother-in-law, a resident of Colonia Dublan in her mid 70s, had been kidnapped in September 2011, held for ransom for four days then released. She had subsequently fled to Phoenix. One of many colony residents with dual citizenship, the kidnappers told her if they saw other yanqui members of the family they would suffer a similar fate.
But now the woman's son, a legal permanent resident, is in deportation proceedings. His mother is terrified that if he loses his fight he will be dumped in a Mexico border town and then be forced to go to the colonies, where his only family in Mexico are, and certainly be targeted by local gangs that terrorize residents -- whether they have gringo connections or not, according to several other kidnap victims I've interviewed in recent years.
After vociferous campaigning by LeBaron and the high-profile kidnapping of one of Mitt Romney's relatives, the Mexican government sent in the military to patrol the area. But apparently that has not deterred the ongoing wave of kidnappings, extortion and murder that has overshadowed the once-peaceful colonies, say former residents who have since come to Utah in search of security.
If Romney's star continues to climb into the political firmament, perhaps interest in his roots will shed further light on the tragic struggles of the colonies to survive.