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In February 2014, WOLA investigators paid a 12-day visit to several points along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala.
Inner-tube rafts take people across the Suchiate River between Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.
At the porous borderline, the buildup is mainly a halfhearted effort to keep better records of who is crossing. The border security and migration situation is badly broken at Mexico’s southern border. A better security approach for the Mexico-Guatemala border is clear, but politically difficult. These recommendations, though, are either too heavy a political lift or will take a generation to implement. Greatly increasing the presence of judicial, prosecutorial, and investigative bodies to crack down on organized crime and gang activity in the border zone, and the widespread official corruption that sustains them. Greatly increasing cooperation between law enforcement, immigration enforcement, and judicial agencies that too often work separately, and with little mutual trust, in the border zone. Reducing obstacles that Central American migrants with strong claims to asylum or refugee status face, both in Mexico and in the United States. Launching a bottom-up reform of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, INM), the agency charged with enforcing immigration law and protecting migrants.
Most of these Central American migrants begin their journey in the Mexico-Guatemala border zone, where they cross into Mexican territory for a long journey to the U.S. The states closest to Mexico’s southern border, and those along the shortest route between Central America and the United States, saw the most returns and deportations. Mexico apprehends most migrants in states that lie along the shortest path between Central America and the United States. Three countries account for nearly all of Mexico’s growing number of migrant deportations. Between this rise in migration and a heavy presence of organized crime and trafficking groups, this region is receiving greater attention from Mexico—and the United States. Train lines: There are two cargo train lines, one in the north running into Veracruz, and one in the south running to Oaxaca (and eventually to Veracruz).
Migrant shelters in Tapachula, Huixtla, Tenosique, Palenque, Arriaga, and possibly a new one in Comitan.
As a result, crossing the border is trivially easy, and Mexico has chosen to focus its border security controls further from the line, in the border states’ interior.
Guatemala’s border zone comprises the departments (provinces) of San Marcos, Huehuetenango, Quiche, Alta Verapaz, and Peten. Chiapas’s coastal plain, known as the Soconusco region, is largely populated by mestizos (people of mixed indigenous and European heritage), most of them practicing agriculture and cattle ranching. Migrants are principally Central American, though many arrivals come from Cuba, South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
Other nationalities also characterize the northernmost segment of the border, between the state of Quintana Roo and Belize.
Campeche and Tabasco, which border the sparsely populated Peten region, also have a largely Central American migrant population working in their agricultural sector, particularly cattle ranching and sugarcane. The Mexico-Guatemala border region suffers high levels of illegal trafficking in drugs, people, weapons, and other contraband. Even Guatemalan drug-related violence has calmed recently in the border zone, as Mexico’s Sinaloa and Zetas cartels entered into separate, and probably temporary, arrangements with traditional Guatemalan drug-trafficking families. At an Army checkpoint near the Lacandon jungle in Chiapas, a sign displays past drug and arms seizures.
Little illicit money appears to stay in the area, though we did see some signs of hard-to-explain wealth. Although Chiapas is a relatively safe state, we heard accounts of communities organizing to respond to crime and as a way to protect themselves, with residents often preferring to address concerns within the community rather than calling in the police. Rafts unload cargo, with no government officials present, on the Mexican side of the Suchiate River. As would be expected of a sparsely populated zone, Mexico and Guatemala maintain only ten official border crossings.
Monuments mark the border on a hillside above Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Mexico and La Mesilla, Guatemala. In this context of apparently easy cross-border transit, Mexico’s strategy opts to extend border controls into the interior, and to involve various public security bodies, including the armed forces. National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, INM): A unit within the Interior Secretariat, the INM is charged with enforcing Mexican immigration law and protecting migrants. As of 2013, according to a study by the Mexican think-tank Democracy and Security Institute (Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia, INSYDE), the INM “had a total of 5,875 authorized positions, 346 Delegations and Sub-Delegations (both Federal and Local) throughout the country, and it is responsible for migration control in 191 international transit areas, including 65 international airports, 67 deep-water ports, and 59 land-border crossings.
Federal Police (Policia Federal): The approximately 37,000-member national police force, part of the Secretariat of the Interior, is the only unit legally able to help the INM enforce Mexican immigration law.
Customs (Servicio de Administracion Tributaria, SAT): Part of the Treasury Secretariat, this agency monitors cross-border flows of goods. Chiapas Attorney-General (Procuraduria General de Justicia del Estado, PGJ): The PGJ is charged with investigating and prosecuting crimes at the state level, which includes homicides as well as human trafficking.
Some border crossers are migrant workers from Guatemala, who spend a few months in Mexico helping with the harvest on fincas and other large agribusinesses.
In addition to agricultural labor, domestic household workers in the area are almost exclusively migrant women, mainly young Guatemalans.
Because of their irregular status (with the exception of some who have temporary agricultural worker visas), migrant workers are often afraid to denounce any abuses they might suffer at the hands of their employers.
While Mexico’s borderlands have a long tradition of migrants who settle there, the post-2011 influx of Central American arrivals consists mostly of people who intend to pass on to the United States. The Pacific coast route, which includes the Soconusco region cities of Tapachula, Huixtla, Mapastepec, Pijijiapan, Tonala, and Arriaga. The central route, which includes the cities of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, La Trinitaria, Comitan, and San Cristobal de las Casas. The jungle route, which includes the border highway from Benemerito de las Americas to Tenosique and Palenque. While poverty and limited economic opportunities continue to be the predominant factors in the migrants’ decision to leave their countries of origin, crime and violence have become an ever larger part of their calculation. Between 2012 and 2013, these shelters saw demand for their services nearly double as the exodus from Honduras intensified. Young people flee to evade gang recruitment or harassment, and some teenagers we interviewed spoke vaguely of fleeing from gang trouble. A UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Tapachula told us of increasing numbers of entire families of Hondurans, including many with young children, leaving their home country due to persecution from gangs or maras. In a recent report on unaccompanied children leaving Central America and Mexico, UNHCR found approximately 56 percent of interviewed children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with potential international protection needs. In 2012, the INM reported a 46.6 percent increase in detentions of unaccompanied migrant children, reaching 6,100 for that year.
The situation of child migrants has become even more urgent due the conditions in which they travel, the way they are detained, and the procedures that are applied. While Mexican migrants, including unaccompanied children, are promptly returned to Mexico, Central American migrant children must be held, processed, and transferred within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services. One issue is law enforcement and protection officers’ lack of training in the identification and screening of vulnerable children. A rising number of both children and adult migrants are seeking protection and asylum in Mexico.
UNHCR, which has had a presence in Chiapas since 1982, has long worked on the asylum issue. Honduran migrants write their names in chalk and charcoal on a highway overpass in Lecheria, north of Mexico City. This approval rate is very low given the demand for asylum rights in the southern border region. Central American asylum applicants’ requests indicate threats of what seem to be systematic violations of their human rights, such as torture, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions.
Apart from the risks of riding the train (discussed below), migrants frequently fall victim to crime and abuse when they use other transport or when they are in public areas like bus stations. A November 2013 report by the Documentation Network of Migrant Defense Organizations (Red de Documentacion de las Organizaciones Defensoras de Migrantes), in collaboration with the Jesuit Migration Service, analyzed 931 testimonies of migrants gathered by seven shelters in Mexico during the first six months of 2013.
Based on conversations with shelter staff as well as testimonies from migrants, it is clear that police at all levels target migrants riding on buses or combis (passenger vans), interrogate them about their migration status even though they have no authorization to do so, and extort them with the threat that if they do not pay, they will be turned over to the INM. Corruption is acute at road checkpoints, according to numerous testimonies from community leaders, migrants’ defenders, human rights defenders, and migrants.
The Chiapas-based human rights defenders we interviewed in San Cristobal de las Casas saw little near-term hope that this culture of corruption might change. Though the borderline itself is porous, Mexico has chosen to enforce its borders further inland.
Generally, the most vulnerable migrants are those who cannot afford to hire a smuggler, whose fees for transit across Mexico can exceed US$8,000.
Migrants currently board the train’s northern route in Tenosique, Tabasco or Palenque, Chiapas, following a track along the Gulf of Mexico through Veracruz. Numerous migrants making the 35-mile walk from the Guatemalan border to Tenosique, the train stop closest to the Peten.
In Tabasco, where 35 miles stand between the Guatemalan border and the northbound train line in Tenosique, migrants either pay to hitch a ride, or travel on foot. Mexican immigration authorities do carry out periodic sweeps along the road, capturing migrants whom they detain or deport back into Guatemala.
After years of repair, the train along Chiapas’ Pacific coast will once again start in Tapachula sometime in 2014. The same Central American gangs that have made life unlivable in places like Honduras are present all along the train lines in southern Mexico.
Also in April, an official from the Oaxaca State Attorney General’s Office confirmed that two massive assaults had recently occurred against migrants riding on the train that departs from Arriaga. Individuals we interviewed expressed concern about possible collusion between criminal groups and the train company or train operator. Once the train resumes operating out of Tapachula, criminal gangs currently based in Arriaga will most likely shift their operations south, adding to an already complex set of dynamics facing migrants in this border area.
Further north along the train line is Veracruz, which migrant defenders and shelter personnel regard to be the most dangerous segment of the journey between the southern border and Mexico City, even though surveys of migrants indicate that more abuse occurs in Chiapas. Migrants kidnapped by criminal groups are taken and held in safe houses, under unspeakably brutal conditions, until relatives, usually in the United States, pay steep ransoms. Migrants and shelter personnel told us that the gang extortion, kidnapping, and banditry problems have worsened dramatically in the past few years as Central American migration has increased. As a result of the governor’s complaint, the train companies began to prohibit migrants from traveling on the Tenosique-Palenque train line, which resulted in a concentration of migrants in southern Mexico. The train lines that begin near the Guatemalan border end up at a series of junctions north of Mexico City, in working-class suburbs in the state of Mexico.
Between December 2013 and April 2014, we carried out a series of interviews with nine organizations working in several points along Mexico’s southern border.
One of the most notable changes they have observed is a greater presence of the security forces, including the Army, Marines, and Federal Police, working in the border region. In northern Chiapas, a heavy presence of police and soldiers has been a constant since the 1990s Zapatista uprising.
Some Mexican authorities have denied that the increased security force presence is part of a strategy to fortify the southern border—at least, that was the response of INM officials whom we interviewed in Mexico City. Individuals carrying cargo, likely for sale on the Mexican side of the border, wade the shallow Suchiate River from Guatemala. Detecting or deciphering a single government strategy to guide this buildup has been difficult.
Efforts to improve documentation and record-keeping about border-crossers at official ports of entry; authorities are reducing the number of ports while upgrading the technology in the remaining ones.
Recognition that the entire 714-mile border will still be easily crossed by those who choose not to pass through the ports of entry.
Greater control by security forces of roads and terrain inland from the border, principally through checkpoints, patrols, and surveillance. Ambiguity about security force presence along the train line, and in general about reforms to improve accountability or reduce corruption.
Amid fragmentary official information and numerous public statements in recent months, we have pieced together the following Mexican government policy announcements. The result is an effort by federal and state entities to coordinate and direct government investment in infrastructure and other economic development projects in Mexican states near the southern border.

In April 2014 Mexico’s government published a diagnostic study of economic conditions and migration patterns in the southern border zone. This program devotes resources to infrastructure and public works projects in border states.
The Customs agency (SAT) is a component of Mexico’s national security policy, and it has seen its presence near the southern border bolstered as part of a 2007-2012 modernization program. The completed retrofit of a loading platform at the historic train depot in Hope has finally attracted Amtrak passenger service.  Amtrak Texas Eagle Passenger Train Thursday, officials in the community commemorated the first day of the new service with fireworks and fanfare.
The Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad built its own tracks from San Marcos to San Antonio through New Braunfels in 1900. This visit was part of a larger project, begun in the second half of 2013, to monitor border security conditions, migration trends, and recent policy changes affecting this region.
This one is simple to cross: with an ID card at an official entry point, by wading a river between towns, or by stepping over an invisible line in the backcountry. While circulation in the immediate border zone is free, Mexico’s border security tightens along the road network into the rest of the country and toward the United States. The United States needs to approve a comprehensive immigration reform that sets clear rules for temporary work and pathways to citizenship. In the meantime, our report recommends several smaller steps that governments can take now—if not to solve, then at least to humanize border security and migration in the Mexico-Guatemala border zone. Chiapas, which includes the most densely populated border zones, was in first place with 43 percent of the 2013 total (34,252), followed by Veracruz, Tabasco, and Oaxaca. The surrounding region, which until quite recently did not attract much national or international attention, will be indelibly changed as a result. During our visit to the southern border zone, we crossed the line in four different places without showing our passports.
Chiapas has historically been Mexico’s most important point of entry, transit, and deportation. Despite these dire numbers, Chiapas continues to be an option for residency for Central Americans, primarily from Guatemala, Honduras, and to a lesser extent, El Salvador. Migrants from Cuba work as service employees in the state’s tourist zones like Cancun, and recent years have seen a growing presence of Central Americans working in both the tourist industry and in agriculture, especially sugarcane cultivation. These states’ border regions, however, are swampy and support little labor-intensive agriculture.
However, except for occasional outbreaks, the region has mostly avoided the bloodshed that so often accompanies such organized illegal activity.
As at Mexico’s northern border, gangs extort businesses, and assaults and property theft are common. Of the seven departments (out of twenty-two) with the lowest 2012 homicide rates, four were border departments. This is likely because drugs spend some time on the Guatemalan side as they are staged for cross-border shipment, giving criminals a product to fight over, while they spend little time on the Mexican side of the border zone: they are moved north immediately. Violent outbreaks do occur, though: in June 2013 a killing of police officers in Salcaja, Quetzaltenango, was believed to be linked to an attempt by the Zetas, who are stronger in the eastern part of the border area, to operate in the Sinaloa cartel-dominated western zone.
For instance in Frontera Comalapa, a small town about ten miles from the Guatemalan border, we saw many new trucks and other SUVs, often with young men driving inside and frequently without license plates.
A February 2014 study by the Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano stated that between 2010 and 2013, Chiapas had the second highest number of registered cases of human trafficking in Mexico, with the Federal District topping the list. The Chiapas Border Police, a small force, claims that an additional 45 informal vehicle crossings exist between Chiapas and Guatemala. Violations of this law, such as being present in Mexico without proper documentation, are considered administrative, not criminal, offenses.
In the southern border zone, it carries out duties similar to those of the Army, along with coastal and riverine patrols. Mexico’s 2011 Migration Law directs the Federal Police to assist and coordinate with the INM in revising the documentation and vehicles of people who seek to enter or leave the country. Troops are not charged with enforcing immigration law, although by numerous accounts they do inquire about individuals’ migration status. Chiapas is the only state with a Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Migrants (Fiscalia Especializada en Delitos Cometidos Contra Migrantes). Three ports of entry have been closed in Chiapas recently, and in several public forums and events since 2013, authorities have mentioned a likely further reduction. Other areas of migrant labor are informal or exploitative: young Guatemalan children who sell gum on the streets, workers in the municipal trash dump, and prostitutes, many of them human trafficking victims.
Mexico’s new 2011 Migration Law also presents obstacles for migrants seeking to regularize their status in the country.
Mexican authorities and migrant shelters in the southern border zone are seeing increases in Central American migration similar to that recorded by U.S. Under the Central America-4 visa system, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua do not require each other’s citizens to present visas or passports. Within this migrant population, the proportion of women increased from single-digit percentages to nearly 20 percent, and there has been a higher incidence of both entire families and unaccompanied minors.
Residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are also being pushed northward by the world’s highest levels of criminal violence.
They express fears that adolescent boys will be forcibly recruited by the maras, and that adolescent girls will be used for prostitution. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended 21,537 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, a dramatic increase from 4,059 apprehensions in FY 2011. The UNHCR study found that not all unaccompanied children were seeking their parents or other family reunification, or looking for better economic opportunities. The children then remain in agency-contracted shelters until a family member, sponsor, or foster parents can be found to keep custody over them while they go through immigration court hearings.
Migrant children may be placed in detention with adults, as Mexico has only two shelters specifically for children, one in southern Mexico and another in Mexico City, administered by the Integral Family Development agency (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF). The quest for asylum often starts in southern Mexico, the first point of entry in the country.
While in the 1980s it attended to Guatemalan refugees fleeing civil war, in recent years it has supported refugee status requests for individuals from Colombia, African countries, and more recently the large wave of Central American migrants fleeing violence and extortion.
Applicants’ top four countries of origin were Honduras (455), El Salvador (285), Cuba (92), and India (88).
According to information obtained by the Tapachula-based Fray Matias de Cordova Human Rights Center, an informal policy seeks to discourage people from pursuing asylum claims by subjecting them to prolonged internment in INM detention centers. During the past few years, many Central American migrants with whom we have spoken about their journey north report that traveling through Central America was not a problem: the violence and abuse started in Mexico. Of those surveyed, a staggering 52 percent reported being robbed and 33 percent reported being extorted, primarily by criminal groups.
He reported that the agents took the migrants into the jungle, removed two of them from the vehicle and threatened them, stole their money, threatened them again, and then abandoned them.
Where drug interdiction and migration control are concerned, they said, Mexican forces will do the bare minimum that the U.S. As the distance from Central America increases, so do migrants’ chances of running afoul of Mexican authorities. For the tens of thousands per year who lack such resources, Mexico’s cargo train network is far less policed than the road network.
Another route, following Chiapas’ Pacific coast, used to begin in Tapachula, until the track was destroyed by Hurricane Stan in 2005. These sweeps are infrequent enough, though, that migrants are not dissuaded from walking on the roads between the border and the beginning of the train line. This may reduce the dangers for migrants in this part of Chiapas, as they no longer will have to make their way to Arriaga to reach the train. Operating with very little challenge from Mexican authorities, the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs extort their countrymen as they migrate away from their countries of origin.
In another incident, on April 4, 2014, four migrants on that train were killed and three were injured by a criminal gang’s assault.
They cited incidents in which a train stops in a remote area for no apparent reason, and criminal groups then board it to rob and abuse migrants.
This year has seen a rise in Central American gang activity in the Soconusco region; jockeying to dominate stops along the soon-to-be-restored train line is a likely reason.
There, heavily armed kidnappers, many reportedly tied to the Zetas, act so brazenly that, according to numerous reports, they are able to stop trains and force migrants to board their late-model pickup trucks. In late March 2014 the governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, lodged a criminal complaint before the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) against two train companies operating in southern Mexico, Ferrosur and Kansas City Group (KCSM). Migrants dismount in the neighborhood of Lecheria in Tultitlan municipality, but are not permitted to await and board new trains there. The local population views migrants as a nuisance, associating them with behavior like petty theft, vandalism, and panhandling, and makes clear that those who arrive on the trains should keep moving on.
Due to their work on human rights and migrants’ rights, these groups have regular contact, both direct and indirect, with migrants in the border zone. They are observing some recent changes, and greater expressions of interest in the southern border, but official information about these measures remains opaque, dispersed, and apparently unlinked to a larger policy. This proliferation of units with overlapping responsibilities has been accompanied by reports of human rights violations, such as abuse of authority, mistreatment, and the abuse and extortion of migrants. Near the border and in the Soconusco region, however, this is a new phenomenon, leading the population to believe that overall crime and insecurity are worsening. While the resulting increase in federal security personnel had been gradual, beginning in January 2014 we noted a more rapid deployment of Federal Police and of Federal Ministerial Police, an investigative unit attached to the Attorney General’s Office (PGR). In April we observed such a patrol integrating the INM, the Federal Police, the Federal Ministerial Police, the Chiapas State Border Police, and the Army. These officials agreed on the need to register formally all individuals who cross the southern border, to attend to migrants crossing through the zone, and to improve coordination with Guatemala and Belize. Within the framework of this program, on November 28, 2013, President Pena Nieto announced the closure of several official border crossings with Guatemala as a cost-saving measure. The most visible element is the construction of three new internal control facilities at key Chiapas highway crossroads in Huixtla, La Trinitaria, and Palenque, discussed below.
Mark Keith, the director of the Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce, was one of about 150 people who took the first train ride to Texarkana on Amtrak's new Texas Eagle service leaving from Hope. They established their first depot on the main road through town called San Antonio Street. In 1881 the I & GN had been leased to the MKT when both were owned and controlled by Jay Gould. The long ride atop the train is physically dangerous, and the lack of security leaves migrants at the mercy of Central American gangs, bandits, kidnappers, and corrupt officials.
Mexico should adopt a special visa status or similar mechanism that allows migrants in transit who are victims of violence or abuse to go to the authorities without fear of deportation. As a result, Mexico is also apprehending more Central American migrants within its territory.
During the first months of Pena Nieto’s administration, Mexican officials repeatedly spoke of the need to increase a formal presence along the border.
The Peten, Guatemala’s largest department, makes up a third of the national territory but only about 4 percent of its population. The Soconusco region has stood out both for the quantity and diversity of its migrant population. Instead they, especially Tabasco, are zones of transit where a rapidly growing number of Central American migrants begin their journey, mainly along the cargo train line discussed below. In Tapachula, the largest city in the border zone, the Homeland Security Investigations agency of U.S.
A frequent phenomenon is young women, often minors, from Central America forced to work as prostitutes in border cities and unable to leave. We heard of roadblocks being set up by criminal groups charging fees to allow vehicles to pass, and of an increase in cases of extortion and kidnappings.
Mexico’s air force uses Brazilian radars and planes that the United States donated in the 1990s to operate SIVA, a system to monitor suspicious air traffic in the southern border zone.
People come to buy and sell, and stores (including Wal-Mart) in Tapachula depend in part on the Guatemalan market. Similar to the seasonal migration flows from poorer southern states like Guerrero to the fields in northern Mexico, Mexican citizens in the Soconusco region rarely deign to do seasonal work harvesting mangos, coffee, banana, papaya, sugarcane, and other products. Apart from these workers, those who cross the border for labor, shopping, or small-scale commerce generally do not bother to pass through the official crossings and their bureaucratic red tape. Needing only their identity cards, citizens of Honduras, El Salvador, and a much smaller number of Nicaraguans easily cross Guatemala to reach Mexico. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Honduras currently has the highest homicide rate in the world with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 residents.

Corrupt security forces’ inability to protect citizens too often leaves them with no choice but to leave. In the first eight months of FY 2014, the number surged still further, to a stunning 34,611, overwhelming U.S.
Some were fleeing violence: either violence related to organized criminal groups or domestic, intrafamily violence. Due to the extreme violence from which many of these children are fleeing, as well as cases in which children have been victims of intrafamilial violence or human trafficking, a number of them would likely qualify to receive asylum or another permission to stay in the United States. If a child decides to request asylum, he or she may remain in detention for several months, leading some to desist from their requests in order to get out of the detention center and return to their home countries.
Of these requests, only 245 were granted refugee status and 35 received complementary protection. The conditions in these sites, along with the infringements on their rights that occur there, cause many people facing real persecution to abandon their right to petition for asylum. While migrants have historically been victims of abuse during their travels, the number and severity of these abuses has increased substantially of late, as organized criminal groups operating along the migrant transit route have diversified their activities beyond drug trafficking to include human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion.
Prior to this incident, Gonzalez had denounced that Federal Police agents charged with protecting the La 72 shelter had detained, beaten, and threatened two migrants who were staying there. As smugglers pay fees to criminal groups (and at times Mexican authorities) who control the migrant routes, they are more likely to enjoy safe passage, with a significantly lower probability of abuse and violence. Now, the route starts in Arriaga, Chiapas, from where it passes through Oaxaca and north to Veracruz. In order to avoid the eleven checkpoints that we counted between Tapachula and Arriaga, migrants will often dismount combis or taxis before the checkpoint, walk miles in brushland, and then board another combi on the other side of each checkpoint.
The danger of being robbed or assaulted along this 35-mile stretch of road, especially at night, is likely greater. Those who cannot pay are either abused or pushed off the train while it is moving, or prohibited from climbing aboard if the money is collected beforehand. In other cases, coyotes (human smugglers) traveling with the migrants will pay the train operator to stop to let migrants climb on board. Migrants on the train line, who are assumed to be carrying cash, also face the threat of regular banditry by groups of bajadores who assault and rob them. Governor Duarte argued that because they allow migrants to ride on top of the train, the companies are complicit in the crimes against migrants that occur on the train.
In at least one massive detention operation, discussed below, the migrants’ decision to travel on foot through Mexico put them at greater risk of abuse by Mexican authorities. Shelters attempt to educate about the risks further north, and more information comes from smugglers or from the minority of migrants, mostly deportees, who have made the trip before. They must walk about 15 miles north to Huehuetoca municipality, and from there they can board trains to Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, or Reynosa. Shelters have had a hard time staying open here in the face of determined opposition, and even threats and acts of aggression. Conceptually, this means a turn toward more policies that view migrant flows as a threat to be controlled, instead of a humanitarian phenomenon to be managed or a vulnerable population to be protected.
The population’s confusion about the identities of so many military and police units generates an atmosphere of impunity for those responsible for abuses. The inclusion of combat-trained military personnel on routine patrols risks the explosive reaction that Mexico’s northern border witnessed after 2006, when the armed forces became massively involved in public security. They also placed Mexico’s Navy (Marines) in a coordinating role for southern border security.
In a situation of low skills, poor coordination, and high impunity, beefing up existing border security will increase abuses and trigger more violence without actually reducing migrant flows or trafficking.
Mexico’s judiciary and internal control agencies need dramatic improvements to stamp out corruption, the oxygen that sustains violent criminal groups. The number of other-than-Mexican migrant apprehensions has nearly tripled in two years; there were 54,098 in 2011.
According to statistics from the Mexican Secretariat of the Interior’s (Secretaria de Gobernacion, SEGOB) Migration Policy Unit, Mexico detained 86,298 foreign individuals in 2013. They placed border security as a priority topic in the Mexico-Guatemala bilateral agenda, and announced in June 2013 that the Mexican Marines would play a primary role on southern border security. Nationwide, the current cargo companies are Ferromex, Kansas City Southern de Mexico, Ferrosur, Terminal y Ferrocaril del Valle de Mexico, Linea Coahuila-Durango, Ferrocaril del Istmo, Ferrocarril CZRY, and Ferrocarriles Chiapas-Mayab, which operates near Mexico’s southern border. Chiapas is an area of rugged mountains, with lowland jungles that are being converted, with remarkable rapidity, into cattle pastures, oil palm plantations, and other large-scale agriculture.
During Guatemala’s civil war, many citizens of that country passed through Quintana Roo, leaving children who are now part of Mexican families.
Chiapas had the 12th lowest homicide rate of Mexico’s 31 states and Federal District in 2013, and Tabasco had the 6th lowest.
In June 2013 Mexico’s Secretariat of the Interior stated that SEMAR is in charge of southern border security.
Residents and citizens of Guatemala and Belize are also able to enter Mexico as regional visitors, which allows them to be 100 kilometers north of the border in the states of Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Campeche without obtaining a tourist visa.
Guatemalans find cheap clothing in Mexico, while Mexicans find cheap gasoline in Guatemala.
Hondurans can take regular buses across the Peten and be at the Mexico border in less than 24 hours. As a region, Central America joins Southern Africa as the sub-regions with the highest homicide rates, four times higher than the global average.
Homeland Security and Health and Human Services agencies’ capacity to accommodate them. The report stated that the number of asylum requests by children had increased by 432 percent.
He appointed Craig Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to oversee the situation. However, these children often do not have access to lawyers, and groups that work to find pro bono legal assistance cannot meet the demand. Within this group, the top four countries of origin were Honduras (99), El Salvador (84), Nigeria (14), and Syria (11).
Instead, they decide to join the flow of migrants who cross Mexico without receiving the international protection to which they are entitled. Approximately 18 percent of the abuses were committed by Mexican authorities, with the Federal Police at the top of the list (35 percent), followed by municipal police forces (31 percent). Migration officials’ comments appeared to ascribe responsibility to the cargo train companies themselves, although the tracks run on federal land. For hundreds of miles they ride on the roofs of the train cars trying to avoid fatal falls, hot days, frigid nights, and low-clearance tunnels.
They were individuals of all ages; the majority were probably males in their late teens or early twenties, although we also saw younger teenagers, men in their 40s and 50s, small groups, and women. Some enterprising Mexican smugglers charge migrants a steep fee to drive them, usually in the backs of pickup trucks, over this distance.
Honduran migrants we spoke to in Nogales, Sonora in April 2014 reported that they had seen two migrants thrown off the train because they did not have any more money to pay the fee.
He accused some train workers of being accomplices of organized crime, and alleged that some workers also commit crimes directly against migrants. As of early June 2014, it is unclear whether the train companies are continuing to prohibit migrants from riding on the train. Still, too often our questions about the journey’s dangers were met with a shrug, an expression of faith in God, and the observation that their place of origin is dangerous too. Most Central American migrants choose the latter two, as south Texas is a far shorter journey. In Lecheria, where a shelter was forced to close, cash-strapped volunteers are reduced to operating a kitchen that brings meals to migrants camped out in open places, like under highway bridges. It’s my understanding that this started in about 1993 with then Senator Dale Bumpers’ office notifying the City of Hope that there might be a possibility Amtrak would stop in the community,” said Keith.
It may have been replaced to signify the importance of the railroad to the community, or raise the prestige of the I &GN now that the Missouri, Kansas & Texas had begun serving the town as well.
A number of issues arose which made it difficult for the MKT to arrange for trackage right on the I & GN into San Antonio. It contains stations for conductors to print out their train orders and manifests, two rest rooms, an eating area and two offices. And Central American elites need to start protecting their citizens against gang violence and investing in education and job creation at home.
In the eastern part of the state and into the central and northern highlands are numerous indigenous communities where, as in the Guatemalan highlands, many residents wear traditional dress, speak mostly Mayan dialects, and practice subsistence agriculture.
The zone is also home to a community of Mennonites, many of whose children were born on the Belizean side but now live in Mexico. State government billboards on Chiapas roadsides claim that it is the third safest state in the country. The presence of trafficked women in these establishments appears to be an open secret, yet the authorities rarely act.
A May 2014 National Citizen Observatory (Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, ONC) analysis of official crime data backs this sensation of insecurity. It may also result in only the male head of household obtaining papers, increasing the vulnerability of his undocumented wife and making it unlikely that she would report any cases of domestic abuse should they occur.
Salvadorans cross Guatemala to Tapachula or to the Pan-American Highway crossing in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc.
Much of the violence is the work of international, loosely tied networks of youth gangs, called maras, that began within the Central American migrant community in the United States in the 1980s. An internal draft Homeland Security memo from June 2014 estimated that the number of unaccompanied children, mostly Central Americans and Mexicans, could climb to 90,000 for the fiscal year.
Every eight to ten days or so, trains depart from two routes that originate near the southern border. In the Tenosique and Palenque migrant shelters, we saw some families, often with babies, who had taken this road. They also noted that life in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador had already taught them to distrust uniformed security forces. In these encampments, migrants face a high risk of falling prey to kidnappers and thieves, who again act with little opposition from the authorities.
Being able to exercise their rights amounts to a type of protection and a way to improve relations with local residents, among whom anti-migrant sentiment often runs high.
Also the MKT may have been obligated by the Texas Railroad Commission to build their own line to San Antonio.
Data from the first four months of 2014 indicate an approximate 9 percent one-year jump in Mexico’s deportations of migrants from these three countries. The Mexican government’s response to the Zapatista uprising included a good deal of road construction in the conflict areas and regions where displaced Zapatista communities resettled, and it is relatively easy to get from place to place. Their irregular citizenship status makes it difficult to receive basic services like education and health care. A 2013 crackdown in Tapachula closed dozens of these bars, but at least half, local activists told us, reopened shortly afterward.
The study found that between 2012 and 2013, Chiapas registered an increase in complaints of four of the six high-impact crimes they monitored, with cases of extortion increasing by over 26 percent. Today, the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, and smaller organizations control towns and neighborhoods throughout Central America, using extreme brutality to control income streams from extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, and street-level drug trafficking.
Construction began in 1900 from San Marcos and the first MKT train to San Antonio on its own tracks arrived on May 1, 1901. Keith says plans for Amtrak service also fell through 15 years ago, due to changes in leadership at the company. The society refurbished and restored the depot and have established a very interesting collection of railroad items, including a HO scale model layout, a steam engine, a caboose and a dining car. Some seventeen miles of Katy tracks were abandoned at one point in and around New Braunfels. As traffic demands grew, the UP decided to re-open the lines, much to the chagrin of some home owners who were disturbed to find what they thought was an abandoned right of way was now very much back in business.

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