2 migrant teens slain in Tijuana robbery attempt, officials say

Tijuana has been experiencing record violence at the same time its migrant population has been growing.

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By Annie Rose Ramos and Dennis Romero

Two teenagers who were staying at a migrant center in central Tijuana, Mexico, were killed in an attempted robbery, a law enforcement official said late Tuesday.

Jorge Alberto Álvarez Mendoza, deputy attorney general in the state of Baja California, said the two boys, estimated to be ages 16 and 17, were stabbed and strangled Saturday. Their bodies were found shortly after 7 p.m., he said.

A third boy with the victims managed to escape, he said.

The bodies were found in an alley in a neighborhood named for the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Álvarez Mendoza said. Authorities believe the trio were headed to another migrant shelter, the Benito Juarez sports complex, which was officially closed down after heavy rains doused the open-air encampment earlier this month.

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The Honduran government confirmed in a statement that it had been informed by Mexican authorities that the deceased teens were from Honduras and said it was working to have their bodies returned home.

"At the moment, all we can say is that the three boys were taken to a place," Rivera told Reuters. "Two of them were brutally murdered, and one of them is a survivor of the incident, who is being protected by Mexican authorities."

Tijuana saw a record number of homicides, 1,744, last year and was seeing a similarly bloody one this year, experts say. The cause is a drug trade that has disintegrated from the high command of a few cartels to hand-to-hand methamphetamine dealing in the shantytowns of the city's industrial fringes.

The violence highlights the dangers faced by migrants in Tijuana — some of whom were part of a caravan that was politicized during the midterm congressional election in November — as thousands await a slim possibility of pleading their case for asylum at the U.S. border.

The administration of President Donald Trump has pushed a policy of blanket denial of asylum while at the same time admonishing Central American migrants, who are often fleeing murderous gang violence in their homelands, to seek legal means of coming to the United States.

In the case of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died Dec. 8 after her father took her from Guatemala to a remote stretch of the New Mexico desert near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Friday on Fox News that her father "chose to cross illegally."

Legal scholars say U.S. law allows migrants seeking asylum to come to a point of entry and request it from officials, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP.

Nicole Alvarez, a lawyer with Al Otro Lado, a migrant advocacy organization, said unaccompanied minors are generally intercepted by Mexican and U.S. authorities before they can seek asylum at a popular port of entry in San Diego.

"The fact that these children died was an avoidable tragedy," she said. "Their blood is on the hands of CBP. This case is a prime example of the dangers faced by unaccompanied children and why CBP should not be impeding the most vulnerable of asylum seekers from accessing the legal and protection systems which can literally save their lives."

The state attorney's office is continuing to investigate the teens' deaths.