It has been almost two years since Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto announced the “Programa Frontera Sur” (Southern Frontier Program). According to the Mexican leader, the crackdown was designed to protect migrants’ human rights from organized crime and human smugglers.
Every year, thousands of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras die trying to cross Mexico in their pursuit of the American Dream.
Mexico has two borders, the northern one with the United States and the southern one with Central America, specifically with Belize and Guatemala. The current situation in the northern border is sensitive. It has been this way since the last century, but the attention to the issue has recently grown thanks to the presidential race in the U.S.
However, the picture in the southern border is underreported and unknown by many people.
The U.S. welcomes thousands and thousands of migrants every year not only from Mexico but also from Central America.
These migrants arrive to American territory through Mexico, enduring a thorny journey. Their motives are very similar to those of Mexicans: lack of opportunities, insecurity and violence.
Historically, for Central American immigrants, crossing the southern Mexican border is a relatively easy task.
Most of them cross the Suchiate River, the natural boundary between Mexico and Guatemala, riding a makeshift raft made of wood and truck tires.
Then, migrants would have to choose one out of three different routes: the trail along the Gulf of Mexico passing through Veracruz to southern Texas, the central route, which covers the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Coahuila arriving to Ciudad Juárez near New Mexico, or, finally, the west coast of Mexico through Jalisco, Sinaloa and Sonora, to reach Tijuana, the closest city to California.
The situation is much more different now than in previous years as “immigration agents” have been assigned to watch the traditional routes. These agents are ordered to detain as many migrants as they can.
Between October 2014 and 2015, the U.S. apprehended 70,226 “non-Mexican” migrants, while Mexico caught 92,889. The previous year, though, Mexico detained only 49,893 Central Americans, a third of the number apprehended by the United States, which is 159,103 non-Mexicans.
The Instituto Nacional de Migración (National Institute of Migration), the Mexican Federal Police and the Mexican Army have received $112 million from the government of U.S. President Barack Obama to respond to the “urgent humanitarian situation” occurring at the southern border.
“The INM has now a lot of both money and pressure to carry out detentions and deportations, but sadly, there is no money to protect the migrants,” Michael Bochenek, the senior counsel of the Children’s Rights Division at the Human Rights Watch, said last month.
A Human Rights Watch report asseverated that 35,704 minors were detained in Mexico during 2015, 50 percent more than the 23,000 registered in 2014 and 270 percent more than the 9,600 apprehended in the previous year.
In 2015, half of the minors were traveling to the U.S. without the presence of an adult.
Fortunately, that is not the case of Jorge, an eight-year-old Honduran traveling with both his parents. Jorge’s father, Carlos, a 26-year-old native of Honduras’ former capital, Comayagua, said the family was traveling with no money and no destination in mind. Twenty-five days have passed since they left their home in search of a better future. “I spent seven years in jail and I do not want the same for my cipote (a Honduran word to say child),” Carlos said.
With 1,500 kilometers traveled and almost 1,000 kilometers left to reach American territory, the story of this family is just one of the hundreds that occur in Mexico on a daily basis.
They are traveling independently because they can’t afford the trip by train. The fare is $100 per person for riding “La Bestia” (The Beast), the freight train that crosses Mexican territory and serves as a conveyance between Mexico’s southern states and all the northern border states.
Controlled by mafia groups, the train, also called “the train of death,” is the fastest way to arrive to the U.S. but also the most hazardous one. Robbery, rape, abduction, falls and even death are some of the dangers that encounter migrants on their way.
Asylum is barely an option for Central American children. “Mexico has a law with high levels of protection but it is operated by agencies with no capacity to apply it,” Bochenek said.
Only one percent of detained children is acknowledged as refugees, which allows them to receive protection. The other 99 percent are deported, only to go north again once they are back in their native countries.
When the government is incompetent, society becomes in charge of finding a solution for social problems. Across Mexican territory, shelters are the allies of migrants. They offer them the opportunity to have a decent lunch, take a shower after several days of traveling or rest in a mattress for a couple of nights.
FM4 Paso Libre is a shelter located in Guadalajara, the capital city of the western state of Jalisco. “In Central America exists a stigma that has to do with violence, poverty and gangs,” the general coordinator of the initiative, Alonso Hernández, said.
“This makes the situation very complex and reinforces the stereotype of perceiving migrants as potential criminals,” he added.
Local students who were concerned about the lack of support for Central Americans during their journeys started the initiative.
Migration is a current phenomenon in Mexico, Central America and the entire planet, a real issue. Mexico needs clear public policies in order to improve on this issue.
It is also true that, since ancient times, people’s movements have been a recurrent part of human activity.
Alonso seems to know this. “It’s not about Mexicans, Hondurans and Guatemalans, the migration crisis is about the human race.”
Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV