El Paso, Texas – A Mexican woman who refused to leave her homeland despite the murders of four of her children, two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law is now seeking asylum in the United States.
"My time has come to leave Mexico," 76-year-old Sara Salazar de Reyes said.
Though 32 members of the clan have fled to the United States since the killings of their kin began in 2010, the family matriarch vowed not to abandon the increasingly lawless Juárez Valley as long as a single family member remained in Mexico.
The last holdout, grandson Ismael Reyes, recently joined the exodus.
"Ismael was the only one who didn't want to leave his country, and now that he decided to seek refuge in the United States, the moment came for me to reunite with the rest of my family, who are already safe in the U.S.," Salazar said.
The first family members to be killed were Salazar's daughter Josefina Reyes and a grandchild, followed by the slaying of another of Sara's offspring.
Two other children, a grandchild and a daughter-in-law were later gunned down.
The Juárez Valley lies about 30 miles from Ciudad Juárez - the ground zero of Mexico's drug war - and just south of the U.S. border.
Mexico's brutal drug cartels have sought to depopulate areas of the valley to facilitate smuggling operations, yet the Reyes family blame their woes not on the criminals, but on the soldiers mobilized to battle the traffickers.
The northern state of Chihuahua, where Juárez and the Juárez Valley are located, has accounted for about 30 percent of the more than 50,000 homicides murders committed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón militarized the drug war after taking office in December 2006.
"Ismael hid out in Guadalupe, Juárez Valley, and he resisted leaving his home and everything he had. But armed army members entered the house of his ex-wife and asked for him and she had to tell them where he was, so we left for the United States that same night," Sara Salazar recounted.
Ismael Reyes told Efe he stayed in Mexico for a while in the hope that the situation would change, but then came the threats: "They burned my house, stole cars, threatened my ex-wife and, in the end, I lost everything."
"The only thing left was for them to find me and kill me," he added.
Sara and Ismael said they made enemies by denouncing the army for human rights abuses and demanding justice for their slain kin.
"The family became a nuisance for the military," according to their attorney, El Paso immigration lawyer Carlos Spector, who has helped a dozen other Mexican asylum seekers.
Spector's clients include Saul Reyes Salazar, Sara's 46-year-old son, who was granted asylum in January.