Pastor Ortiz is a Baptist minister who has been living and working with asylum seekers on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border since 2017.
He was 16 years old when his father brought his family to the United States from Mexico in the hope of finding a way to support them. And he has dedicated his life and ministry to the care of immigrants.
In the summer of 2019, the U.S. began forcing asylum seekers to wait on the Mexican side of the border for their court hearings in the U.S. That’s when Pastor Ortiz opened his El Buen Samaritano (Good Samaritan) shelters: three in Nuevo Laredo and one each in Saltillo, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas, thanks to the financial support of the Immigrant Relief Ministry of Fellowship Southwest, a cooperative multicultural ministry in the region.
Cartels often kidnap asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the border and demand their families pay ransom for their return.
Ortiz protects those in his shelter by shuttling them back and forth for their hearings and seeing to their needs.
A bricklayer by trade, he even built a pizza oven at one of his shelters so asylum seekers can bake and sell pizza to support themselves and contribute to the community while they wait.
Known and trusted not only by Mexican authorities but also by the drug cartels, Ortiz is usually able to navigate the system unscathed. But in June 2022, a cartel that was new to the area and unfamiliar with Ortiz’s reputation kidnapped the pastor along with 15 immigrants he was sheltering in Nuevo Leon.
On his release, Ortiz described the events in a recorded teleconference interview. He said his abductors thought he was cutting in on their territory—benefitting financially at the cartel’s expense. They demanded to know how much he charged each migrant family he assisted in one of his shelters.They refused to believe he was providing food, shelter and transportation to migrants for free.
Ortiz handed them his cell phone with his contacts in it and challenged them to call those in his shelter.
“If you find just one person that I charged a dollar … If you find one call where I was talking to somebody about money or any extortion, then you can pull the trigger,” he told his captors.
The cartel tried to extort $40,000 from Ortiz’s family. But when they learned of his abduction, his family notified the Mexican authorities. Mexican National Guard and regional and local law enforcement responded in force with helicopter and ground troops. Even a rival cartel that was familiar with Ortiz’s operations warned the kidnappers that they’d better release him right away.
In the end, the cartel not only released him and the 15 migrants they abducted from his shelter unharmed and without any ransom, but they also replaced the two tires they had slashed on his van.
“I never run from any cartel or from anybody,” said Ortiz. “If we want to make sure our light shines in the darker places, we are not supposed to be scared or run away. We have to step forward.”
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