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Whereabouts of missing workers from Vernon remain a mystery

Juan Manuel Sanchez Gallegos, pictured here in his driver's license photo, is one of four men who went missing from Vernon June 26, 2015.
Image Credit: Contributed/ RCMP
August 26, 2015 - 5:22 PM

VERNON - Two months after going missing, four migrant workers last seen in the Okanagan still have not been located.

The four men, from Mexico, were working at an orchard in Vernon before going missing in late June. According to the Vernon RCMP, they’d been in Canada for ten days before taking a cab from the orchard into Vernon June 26 to cash some cheques. They left some personal items behind at the farm but appear to have taken their identification papers with them. They haven’t been seen or heard from since, and have not reached out to the Mexican consulate, RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk says. Police do not believe foul play is involved.

News of their disappearance didn't reach the public until July 20, almost a month after they went missing. Molendyk says that's because inquiries with the Mexican consulate and border services agencies took some time. He adds it was difficult for police to obtain even simple information like physical descriptions of the men and photographs of them. Police have only been able to provide pictures of two of the four men. 

While the full circumstances of their disappearance remain a mystery, police believe the men attempted to cross the border into the U.S. 

“Our investigation has learned they made it as far as the Osoyoos area,” Molendyk says. “At this point, it does not appear they have started working for another farm in the B.C. area.”

Molendyk says it’s illegal for the men to leave the country under the circumstances, and adds their names have been flagged with both the Canadian Border Services Agency and Homeland Security in the United States.

But an Okanagan-based group called Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture insists we shouldn’t assume criminality was involved. Amy Cohen, a volunteer with the group, says the men are only missing at this point, and is concerned they are being portrayed unfairly as 'fugitives'. They have been critical of police and the media for how the information has been carried to the public for the last month.

“What stuck out to us at first is how it wasn’t at all like a missing persons report. It was very clearly about finding these people, and looked to us like a call to find fugitives, rather than asking the community’s assistance in finding them and determining if they are okay,” Cohen says. “It framed them as potential criminals who had done something wrong.”

She says migrant workers are legally allowed to move around, change employers, and even cross the border if they apply for and obtain U.S. visas. 

Police received some tips from the public after issuing a missing persons report in July, but Molendyk says they got no concrete leads. The case remains under investigation.

The names of the missing men are Huizar Soto Uriel, 37, Isaac Jimenez, 28, Juvenal Rios Binedo, 39, and Juan Manual Sanchez Gallegos, 30. Photographs could only be obtained for two of the four men. Those photos are included below. Police have not provided physical descriptions of the men, or descriptions of the clothing they were last seen wearing. 

These photos of Juan Manuel Sanchez Gallegos were distributed by the Vernon RCMP.
These photos of Juan Manuel Sanchez Gallegos were distributed by the Vernon RCMP.
Image Credit: Contributed/ RCMP

Photos of Huizar Soto Uriel, one of the missing men.
Photos of Huizar Soto Uriel, one of the missing men.
Image Credit: Contributed/ RCMP

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724. 

News from © iNFOnews, 2015

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