Originally published by The NY Times
In June, Josue, a 21-year-old Honduran, reached a safe house in the Mexican border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas. He was there with 11 other Central American migrants. His family had spent the previous year scraping together the $3,800 necessary for this last part of his journey to the United States.
But the “safe” house was not so safe. Only miles from the border, his migration was interrupted as armed men burst into the house, kidnapping the migrants and demanding an additional $1,800 for their release. If their families couldn’t raise the money, the armed men warned, the migrants would be killed.
Every day, dramas and tragedies like this play out for the Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan migrants traveling through Mexico. The Trump administration’s rhetoric has repeatedly linked migrants to gangs, violence and crime, and cast undocumented immigrants as a threat to public safety. But in fact, a majority of the Central Americans arriving at the United States-Mexico border are not perpetrators but rather victims of violence, both in their home countries and during their fraught transit through Mexico.
Over the past three decades, the risks and dangers on the journey from Central America to the United States border have increased — ramped-up United States and Mexican migratory enforcement has pushed migrants onto more invisible, risky paths, and impunity in Mexico for criminal perpetrators has kept them on the streets.
Yet however daunting the risks and challenging the policies, they have not significantly put a dent in the number of Central Americans traveling north. What has changed is that hundreds of thousands of migrants make the journey to the United States along more clandestine and treacherous routes.
For Central American migrants, there is no single transportation method or route to travel through Mexico to reach the United States. Travel experiences are influenced by a migrant’s nationality, gender, age and income. If a Central American migrant hires a smuggler for transiting through Mexico — and 60 percent report hiring these guides in surveys conducted by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte — then the routes will also be determined by the smugglers’ contacts and methods. But they all have at least one thing in common: Not one is safe, and each comes with a series of risks.
As soon as migrants near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, the dangers begin. To reach Mexico’s southernmost cities, migrants with a bit of money can take local buses or hire taxis. Those with empty wallets must walk. This may include hiking for days on the sides of highways, often at night to avoid detection and the strong tropical sun. Mexican officials have focused their enforcement attention less at the physical border and more at highway checkpoints set up around 30 or 100 miles into Mexican territory, where migration authorities attempt to identify individuals transiting through the country without the appropriate documents.
What could push people to knowingly face these conditions or, worse, to bring their children along? For Central Americans, there is a deep chasm between migrants’ desires for safety, work and family reunification and their ability to fulfill these dreams within their own countries or legally in the United States.
In Reynosa, Josue was gearing up to try to make the hike from the border to Houston. Along with hundreds of thousands of other Central American migrants taking these same routes and escaping violence at home or in transit, he was confident that the journey would be worth it. The hope of a better and safer life in the United States was stronger than the fear of any dangers along the way.