A booming industry has emerged to cover the costs of sending the remains of deceased migrants back to Mexico and points further south
Hiram Soto/Enlace, Translated by Catalina Hayes-Bautista, via NCM
July 10, 2005 – When the cousins of gardener Narciso Dìaz died in a car accident in the Southern California town of Temecula, the 23-year-old Chiapas native did what many low-income families do in order to bury their loved ones: he asked the community for help.
After soliciting a Los Angeles radio station, the gardener, who also lives in Temecula, raised a small portion of the thousands of dollars needed to send his loved ones to Chiapas, Mexico. The rest of the bill is covered by the Mexican government, which spends millions of dollars every year in repatriations.
But then something unprecedented happened.
A new business that sold repatriation certificates – documents that act as life insurance and cover funeral costs – saw an opportunity to promote their product and offered to donate funds to send the bodies to Chiapas.
News of the service reached national Hispanic news agencies and marked a new milestone in the repatriation of Mexican immigrants. As the Latino community in the United States continues to grow, a booming industry has emerged to cover the costs of sending the remains of deceased migrants back to Mexico.
“We didn’t know what else to do,” said Diaz, who was contacted by Servicios Especiales Profesionales (Professional Special Services) USA Inc. after having been on the radio show “El Piolìn in the Morning.”
The company sells 30 and 50 dollar certificates that pay for repatriation for a period of three to five years, respectively. The service covers sending bodies to Mexico and other countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Ecuador.
At the same time that California businesses began providing these services, a Florida company specializing in selling immigrants prepaid phone cards started including repatriation coverage in one of their products.
Cristel Telecom, which sells phone cards with different themes such as La Tarjeta Grande, Mexus, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and Ba-Da Ding, has a new card called Repatriar (Repatriate) that comes with its own web page, www.repatriar.com.
Apart from being able to make phone calls with the 10 dollar card, consumers automatically get one thousand dollars towards covering the cost of sending their bodies back to Mexico if they die. The company allows the customer to combine the coverage of up to 10 cards for life insurance of up to 10 thousand dollars.
“These companies have come across something big,” said John Rodriguez of Aztl·n Funeral Home in La Mesa, who in the last year sent approximately 200 bodies to Mexico and Latin America.
It is difficult to know how big the market for this service is since most of the deceased are either young undocumented immigrants or elderly people who want to be buried in their homeland, said Rodriguez. According to Pew Hispanic Center, an estimated 14 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. The company sees this population as its prime market.
According to the Secretary of External Relations of Mexico, Mexican consulates in the United States sent about 4,500 bodies to Mexico last year at a cost of more than two million dollars.
Beautiful and Beloved Mexico
In the Guadalupana Funeral Home, located near Barrio Logan in Los Angles, relatives send off the remains of their deceased loved ones in the Mexican tradition, with tamales, pozole and nightly vigils. The funeral home sent 500 bodies to Mexico and Central America last year.
It was here that Yadira Guzman, a Honduran woman, died in Linda Vista a few weeks ago when someone threw a rock the size of a softball at her car while she was returning home from work at 2 a.m. She died instantly while her husband, a Mexican, drove the car. The police are still investigating the case.
“News of the crime had barely made it onto television when her relatives started calling me,” said the owner of the funeral home, Jose Chavez, who added that it is common for people to organize car washes to raise money to send their deceased family members home.
For Javier Manzanrez, Guzman’s husband, the campaign to collect funds to send his wife’s body to Honduras began almost automatically, as if people already knew what needed to be done. One neighbor took it upon herself to talk to a radio station, while another neighbor helped the widow open a bank account to receive donations. The bank account number was announced on Univision’s local news hour.
“It is very common for people to call and ask for help gathering funds to cover the cost of funerals, including the transportation of a body to its land of origin,” said Ricardo Ojeda, director of Radio Latina 104.5 FM.
“People are very generous and respond well,” he said
Gabriel Monterrubio of Servicios Especiales Profesionales, the company that sells repatriation certificates, hopes that individuals will better prepare for such tragedies. His business, located in Lynwood, near Los Angeles, has several employees and six vans equipped with computers that go to schools, churches and agricultural areas to sell their products.
“The time has come to take responsibility,” said Monterrubio. “People should know that when they die in the United States they leave an economic hardship on the family.”
It is also a hardship for the Mexican government.
For the first time this year, the Deportation Cabinet authorized approximately 2.5 million dollars specifically for the repatriation of dead bodies.
“This is a problem for us because we don’t have the budget and we have to take it out from other necessities such as education, health and infrastructure,” said Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)’s Mexico City representative Roberto Pedraza Martìnez, who is also a member of the Population, Borders and Migration Affairs Commission.
Last month the discussion over who should pay to send the remains home – especially those who died while attempting to cross the border – intensified when an activist group held a protest in front of the Tijuana airport. The protesters demanded that the two Mexican airlines Aeromèxico and Mexicana de Avaciûn pay the costs, since many migrants fly to Tijuana in hopes of crossing to the United States, and this generates profit for the airlines.
For Diaz, the gardener who lost his cousins, it doesn’t matter who pays to send the remains of Mexican immigrants back to Mexico, as long as people like him aren’t blamed for leaving their home countries to support their families.
“All this should be free because no one wants to come here just because. People come here out of necessity,” he said. “They should at least pay for this.”
Hiram Soto: (619) 293-2027; firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Servicios Especiales Profesionales USA Inc., go to www.tutierraentusmanos.com or call (310) 537-1919.
For more information about the Repatriar calling card visit www.repatriar.com.
This article appears here with permission, via special arrangement with New California Media. Please do not reproduce without securing permission.