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- Archived photo via United States Border Patrol  -

Acquitted Catholic priest of abandoning his nephew in Arizona Desert

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Published on Tuesday, May 23, 2023
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


A Catholic priest named Brenes-Villalobos was acquitted of the charge of abandoning his nephew, who, at the time of the events, was six years old, in the Arizona Desert, U.S.A. in 2018.

Authorities held a trial where the Deputy Prosecutor's Office against Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling filed the accusation against Brenes.

The three judges of the San José Criminal Court, Mariana Ramón- Fernández, Bianka Wiciak-Chavarría and Krycia Zamora-Pérez ruled that Brenes was innocent of a charge of abandonment of a minor and smuggling of migrants. The judges considered that during the journey from Costa Rica to the U.S., Brenes was acting to protect his nephew's life.

The child's mother, a Costa Rican woman surnamed Villarreal-Carballo who lives in the U.S., requested Brenes to take the child to the U.S., reads the case statement.

Judges took into consideration how the defendant was the only person with legal permission to travel with the child. During their migration trek, other people, who were in contact with the mother, took Brenes and the child from Mexico to the Arizona Desert.

Once across the border, Brenes left his nephew on the side of a road when he noticed that Border Patrol officers would easily find the unaccompanied minor.

At the end of the trial, Brenes gave a few brief statements to the press saying that he never committed a crime. "Today, justice has been done. I think the Court has made it clear that I am innocent and I have always been innocent. I never committed a crime," he said.

The Deputy Prosecutor's Office doesn't agree with the judge's ruling. They had requested eight years in prison against Brenes and will take some time to see if they will appeal the court decision.

The plight of the Costa Rican boy made headlines in the United States, on June 18, 2018. Brenes had traveled with his nephew to Mexico by air. Then, they both entered the United States, by land, where Brenes abandoned the child in the Arizona desert. The victim was found by U.S. Border Patrol.

Almost immediately, Brenes returned to Costa Rica a day after officers' picked up the boy at the border, according to the Prosecutor's Office.

The child was trying to join his mother, who also is an undocumented immigrant in the United States.

The boy initially went to a government facility in Tucson, Arizona. Judicial agents said that Costa Rican consular workers in the United States managed to deliver the boy to the mother.


Should the United States authorities open an investigation into Brenes's actions? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments news@amcostarica.com