A Classmate of the Missing 43 Now Seeks Asylum in the US

Lead Photo: Photo by Elizabeth Flores/Minnesota Tribune
Photo by Elizabeth Flores/Minnesota Tribune
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Ever since 43 of his classmates at La Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos disappeared in September of 2014 – an event that led to massive social unrest – Carmelo Ramirez Morales has publicly criticized the Mexican government. Now in the United States, he’s looking for asylum protection because he fears retribution for his activism.

Back in Mexico, Ramirez Morales regularly participated in demonstrations with his classmates. But one rainy night in September 2014, he opted out of joining them because his girlfriend came to visit him. That very night he learned things didn’t go as planned when one of his classmates called to tell him police officers shot at them. Carmelo arrived at the scene with a group of students, where they found a bus riddled with bullet holes, according to the Star Tribune.

From that very spot, he and others held a news conference and talked to reporters. Someone opened fire, and one of his friends suffered a bullet wound to the face. Six people died, and a few were injured. Shortly after that night, he and other students gave statements at the Iguala attorney general’s office. As he walked out, the officers he identified in a lineup behind a one-way mirror were only inches away from him.

Following that, he talked to reporters under a pseudonym to talk about his classmates, and condemned the government at rallies. He even traveled with others to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay to put more pressure on the Mexican government for their failure to deliver answers on the missing 43. Soon, he had a threatening voicemail to show for his activism.

But it hasn’t stopped him from looking for justice for his classmates. More than a year after the disappearance, students at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota felt the world had started to forget the events that happened in Iguala. Graduate student Jose Velazquez, who previously stayed with Morales in Guerrero, invited the Mexican student to come speak at the campus in November, and he told his story to about 300 people. After Velazquez heard the threatening voicemail message, he persuaded attorney Jeff Larson to take on his case pro bono. “He has an extremely strong case,” Larson said. “He is in the eye of the storm. It’s compelling and well-documented.”

Morales has relocated to Minnesota, and Larson is trying to get the government to expedite his application for asylum, so that he can continue traveling.

Some believe this is Morales giving up on his classmates, but he argues that this will give him a bigger platform. If his asylum application is granted, it’s likely that he won’t be able to return to Mexico until he has a U.S. passport.