Eshoo and McGovern Lead Letter to Biden Calling for Justice for Slain Jesuit Priests

August 4, 2022
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) along with Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Lou Correa (D-CA), and 20 other Members of Congress called on President Biden yesterday to take action in response to the recent killings of two Jesuit priests in Mexico. The Members urge the Administration to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure justice for these killings and to implement policies to end the crisis of violence that plagues the Mexican people.

On June 20th Fathers Javier Campos and Joaquín Mora opened their church in rural northern Mexico to Pedro Palma, a local tour guide who was being pursued by a powerful member of the Sinaloa cartel. When the cartel boss arrived at the church, he murdered Mr. Palma before fatally shooting both priests. The lawmakers note in their letter that these killings are part of a cycle of violence in Mexico.

The Members wrote:

“Given the disturbing reality that perpetrators of violent crime in Mexico are rarely brought to justice, it’s critical that your Administration work closely with the Mexican government to ensure there is full accountability for the murders of Father Campos, Father Mora, and Mr. Palma. As we write to you, the alleged killer, José Noriel Portillo Gil, has not been apprehended. This is highly alarming because Mr. Portillo is wanted for several other murders, including the killing of an American tourist in 2018.”

In 2021, there were more than 33,300 recorded homicides in Mexico, up significantly from approximately 15,650 in 2014. Mexico recently surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 disappearances, with more than 20,000 occurring over the past two years. To address this rampant violence, the lawmakers urge the Administration to deepen cooperation with the Mexican government and civil society groups to root out corruption, increase the investigative capacity of Mexican law enforcement, and strengthen the independence of prosecutors and judges in Mexico.

The letter is signed by Reps. Eshoo, McGovern, J. García, Correa, Vargas, Norton, Grijalva, Porter, Napolitano, Velázquez, Barragán, Schakowsky, Waters, Titus, Panetta, Quigley, Cárdenas, Espaillat, A. Levin, Connolly, Castro, Lowenthal, Roybal-Allard, and S.J. Lee.

A PDF of the letter can be found HERE and the text is below:

Dear President Biden,

Like many Americans and observers around the world, we are appalled by the brutal killings of Fathers Javier Campos and Joaquín Mora, Jesuit priests who were murdered in their church in Chihuahua, Mexico in June. This tragedy is emblematic of the rampant violence that plagues many regions of Mexico and takes a devastating humanitarian toll on the Mexican people. We write to urge your administration to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure prompt and full justice for these killings and to encourage the implementation of policies to end the cycle of violence.

As you may know, on June 20th Fathers Campos and Mora opened their church in rural northern Mexico to Pedro Palma, a local tour guide who was being pursued by a powerful member of the Sinaloa cartel. When the cartel boss arrived at the church, he murdered Mr. Palma before fatally shooting both priests. Known by their colleagues as “men of unbreakable faith,” Fathers Campos and Mora were killed for providing refuge to a man who feared for his life. 

This horrific incident is far from unique in a country that has experienced surging violence for years. In 2021, there were more than 33,300 recorded homicides in Mexico, up significantly from approximately 15,650 in 2014.  Mexico also recently surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 disappearances, with more than 20,000 occurring over the past two years.  This incessant violence is fueled by organized crime and compounded by high levels of corruption in law enforcement. According to General Glen VanHerck, Commander of U.S. Northern Command, approximately one-third of Mexico is comprised of “ungoverned areas” where criminal organizations operate with impunity.

Members of the clergy are particularly vulnerable to violence because they serve disadvantaged communities where organized crime is most prevalent. They also act as peacemakers, mediating disputes between gangs in regions with minimal presence. For these reasons, more than 30 priests have been killed in Mexico over the past decade, and many of these murders remain unsolved.

Given the disturbing reality that perpetrators of violent crime in Mexico are rarely brought to justice, it’s critical that your administration work closely with the Mexican government to ensure there is full accountability for the murders of Father Campos, Father Mora, and Mr. Palma. As we write to you, the alleged killer, José Noriel Portillo Gil, has not been apprehended. This is highly alarming because Mr. Portillo is wanted for several other murders, including the killing of an American tourist in 2018.

Along with working to promote justice in this particular case, we also encourage increased bilateral coordination with Mexico to address rampant violence. We applaud your successful efforts to develop a new security cooperation plan with Mexico, the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework, which prioritizes strengthening the rule of law, promoting human rights, and adopting a public health approach to reducing demand for illicit drugs.   However, further action is needed to respond to a crisis of this magnitude.

We urge your administration to deepen cooperation with the Mexican government and civil society groups to root out corruption, increase the investigative capacity of Mexican law enforcement, and strengthen the independence of prosecutors and judges in Mexico. We also encourage you to push back against President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s militarized approach to combatting organized crime which raises serious human rights concerns and fails to confront the root cause of violence: the pervasive culture of impunity.

By increasing our efforts to address the crisis of violence afflicting our Mexican neighbors, we will honor the legacies of Fathers Campos and Mora and all those lost to this senseless bloodshed. Thank you for your attention to this important issue and for your ongoing commitment to restoring peace and strengthening human rights in Mexico.

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