Three children who were hacked to death in a crime that stunned Baltimore are to be buried in Mexico this weekend after the victims' parents, who are illegal immigrants, were told they could travel to the funeral and then return to the United States legally for at least a year, officials said.
The arrangement, which U.S. immigration authorities said they agreed to at the request of officials of the Mexican consulate and of Baltimore, cleared the way for the parents -- Ricardo Espinoza; his wife, Noemi "Mimi" Quezada; and Quezada's niece Maria Andrea Espejo -- to fly to Mexico yesterday.
The bodies of the victims, Ricardo Espinoza, 9, his sister Lucero Quezada, 8, and their cousin Alexis Espejo, 10, will be flown to Mexico today.
Mexican consular officials said the Mexican government is covering the family's travel and funeral expenses.
The children were bludgeoned and slashed in their apartment in northwest Baltimore the afternoon of May 27 while their parents were at work.
Two relatives of the elder Ricardo Espinoza -- a brother, Policarpio Espinoza, 22, and a nephew, Adan Espinoza Canela, 17 -- have been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and are being held without bail.
A relative who is helping with the funeral arrangements in the family's home village of Tenenexpan in southeastern Mexico predicted a large turnout.
"Everyone from Tenenexpan will come, of course, but also hundreds of people from the neighboring villages," said Ninfa Lozano, 65, who is related to the victims by marriage.
"Their [late] grandfathers were very humble people, but they were very well known and very well liked here," she said. "There aren't words for what we have all been feeling about this. We're all walking around in emotional exhaustion. How could someone do this to innocent children?"
Lozano spoke from Tenenexpan's public telephone. Like many of the village's roughly 2,500 residents, she said, she could not afford phone service of her own.
The hamlet, which is a few miles from the city of Veracruz, lies in a region that produces mangos. But the season is short, Lozano said, and many adults "have to scratch here and scratch there to find work."
Several hundred have left to find jobs elsewhere in Mexico and in the United States, she said. The victims' parents were among them. Quezada and Espinoza left nearly a decade ago, settling first in Mexico City and then in Baltimore, where they sold tacos from a truck. Espejo and her son, Alexis, had also moved to Mexico City and joined Espinoza and Quezada in Baltimore about six months ago.
Now the parents will be returning to bury their children in a shared grave that has been dug in the village cemetery.
After the funeral, the parents will be "paroled" back into the United States for one year to be available to officials investigating the case and for any future trials, said Ernestine Fobbs, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.
During their parole, the parents will be permitted to work. If all trials have not been completed by the time the parole expires, immigration authorities will consider extending it, Fobbs said. But, she added, "this is temporary. It doesn't mean they can stay here forever."