On Tuesday, the family of Arlington, Texas, firefighter Elijah Snow paid their last respects, still unsure of exactly how he died in Cancun, Mexico. After receiving conflicting reports, they are understandably concerned about whether justice is being served, in addition to grieving the loss of a husband, father, son and colleague. Sadly, that murkiness is not uncommon in tragic cases that cross the border. Dozens of Americans die or go missing in Mexico every year, and their families are often left in limbo, with no one on the case.
The State Department keeps a database of American citizens who died from unnatural causes abroad. It shows 149 deaths in Mexico during 2020, more by far than in any other country. Homicide is the most common cause of those deaths.
But those are just the cases where a death is confirmed. Since 2006, 324 Americans have vanished in Mexico, according to reporting by the The San Diego Union-Tribune. And when that happens, justice is often forestalled by diplomatic relations.
According to the Union-Tribune, Mexican law enforcement agencies won’t take a case based on a request from another agency. Meaning if an Arlington resident disappears while on vacation in Cancun, for instance, the FBI or Arlington Police Department can’t report the case to police there and expect them to do anything. Someone, most often a member of the distraught family, has to physically go to the jurisdiction where the loved one is missing to make a report, which causes crucial delays in cases where time is of the essence.
Snow’s case aside, we should note that the number of Americans who die or disappear in Mexico is tiny compared to the millions who visit there and return safely. And it must be said that some of those who meet violent ends are in Mexico precisely because they’re engaged in dangerous or illegal activity that puts them at risk. Further, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Mexican lives are even more at risk in their own country than American lives. While it’s regrettable that 324 Americans have vanished in Mexico since 2006, the number of Mexicans who have disappeared in that time frame is a staggering 70,000. On average, 94 Mexicans were murdered every day last year. Mexico’s murder rate is the 18th highest in the world, according to data compiled by Statista.
Still, we’re talking about two developed, Western democracies with a long history and deep economic and diplomatic ties. There’s no reason law enforcement agencies can’t work together on both sides of the border.
Tensions between the U.S. and Mexico have risen in recent years for many reasons. U.S. officials arrested a former Mexican defense minister. Mexico has scaled back its cooperation with Drug Enforcement Administration operations. Allegations of corruption have driven suspicion. And the borderlands have proved to be an increasingly violent area.
The Biden administration should work to repair those fraying ties and smooth communication between law enforcement agencies. There should be an established and well-publicized protocol by which American families can pursue these cases without delay, and both governments should cooperate to promote security and justice.
There’s not a policy that will bring back Elijah Snow or relieve his family’s grief.
But there could be a process by which they can be sure justice isn’t being denied.
— Dallas Morning News Editorial