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At CU, Family Members Plead for U.S. Help in IDing Loved Ones Who Went Missing at Border

October 6, 2018

An emotional Yesenua Mehia Reyes, whose only daughter disappeared in Texas, speaks at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing Friday at CU.

A coalition of forensic scientists and human rights organizations at a Friday hearing at the University of Colorado asked U.S. officials to cooperate with them in identifying the remains of migrants who died along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The emotional hearing was one of dozens in a session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which for the first time held a week of hearings in the U.S. outside of Washington, D.C. The commission selected the Colorado Law School to host the hearings after a formal invitation from the school’s dean, S. James Anaya.

Representatives of the Forensic Border Coalition in the hearing at CU’s Wolf Law building said they’ve collected more than 4,000 genetic samples from relatives that correspond with more than 1,500 cases of people who likely went missing along the border, and they would like the FBI to aid in a large-scale DNA comparison to make matches and provide closure for families. They said federal bureaucracy was impeding that.

“We’re here today because after six years of participating in meetings with U.S. officials to find ways to conduct this genetic comparison, the exchange has not taken place and we have not found cooperation from U.S. officials,” coalition representative Mercedes Doretti said.

Yesenua Mehia Reyes spoke during the hearing and said her only daughter disappeared in Texas, on her way to seeking a better future for the family.

“But someone took that possibility away from her, and she was not able to reach her destination,” Reyes said through a translator.

She described the constant, excruciating pain she felt, wondering what became of her daughter.

“I know that you can help us,” she said to assembled U.S. officials. “You can do it because the power is in your hands to do so.”

As U.S. officials began speaking, audience members raised large signs with the photographs and names of missing people.

Officials extended their condolences to those whose loved ones have yet to be identified, but they said the laws governing the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, the DNA database known as CODIS, complicated matters.

“I don’t think that we have any disagreement regarding the ‘what’ must be done — the only issues are working through the ‘how’ it is to be accomplished,” said FBI attorney Paula Wolff.

The commissioners, including Margarette May Macaulay, offered their sympathies, too, and said the commission would do anything within its means to assist in bringing the two sides together and identifying legal solutions for the use of CODIS.

“I have to say that I find this matter extremely difficult because the pain that family members must be suffering, have suffered and will continue to suffer until they have answers as to what has happened to their loved ones is unimaginable,” Macaulay said. “It’s so enormous.”

Around the same time protesters gathered outside Wolf Law in response to another hearing on voting rights in Puerto Rico, others gathered nearby for a vigil to commemorate those who disappeared along the border.

“Facing a border context characterized by erasure, silencing, and disappearance, we invite you to join in this collective act of remembrance that centers the voices of the families most impacted by this humanitarian crisis,” organizers wrote in a description of the vigil .

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, cniedringhaus@dailycamera.com

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