Fear, God And Family Pervade Migrants' Journey

  • A Honduran migrant walks along the train tracks near Tenosique in the Mexican state of Tabasco. This is the beginning of a long journey across Mexico to the U.S. border.
    Hide caption
    A Honduran migrant walks along the train tracks near Tenosique in the Mexican state of Tabasco. This is the beginning of a long journey across Mexico to the U.S. border.
    All photos by David Rochkind for NPR/David Rochkind for NPR
  • Migrants relax in a shelter in Tenosique, the starting point for many Central American migrants who will travel through Mexico on top of freight trains.
    Hide caption
    Migrants relax in a shelter in Tenosique, the starting point for many Central American migrants who will travel through Mexico on top of freight trains.
    David Rochkind for NPR
  • The trip for these migrants has become increasingly dangerous over the past several years as Mexico's drug war has raged, and kidnappings and killings of migrants have increased. Ana Ruiz, a mother of three from El Salvador, says she's making the journey to try to improve the lives of her children.
    Hide caption
    The trip for these migrants has become increasingly dangerous over the past several years as Mexico's drug war has raged, and kidnappings and killings of migrants have increased. Ana Ruiz, a mother of three from El Salvador, says she's making the journey to try to improve the lives of her children.
    David Rochkind for NPR
  • Migrants sleep with their heads on the tracks so they can feel an approaching train and make sure they don't miss it.
    Hide caption
    Migrants sleep with their heads on the tracks so they can feel an approaching train and make sure they don't miss it.
    David Rochkind for NPR
  • Former train station offices in Tenosique. From this town near the Mexico-Guatemala border, the trip is at least 1,000 miles to reach Brownsville, Texas. It's more than 2,000 miles to get to Tijuana.
    Hide caption
    Former train station offices in Tenosique. From this town near the Mexico-Guatemala border, the trip is at least 1,000 miles to reach Brownsville, Texas. It's more than 2,000 miles to get to Tijuana.
    David Rochkind for NPR
  • Once they climb atop a train, migrants face a dangerous ride, as it gets brutally hot during the day and cold at night.
    Hide caption
    Once they climb atop a train, migrants face a dangerous ride, as it gets brutally hot during the day and cold at night.
    David Rochkind for NPR
  • Riders also don't know whether newcomers who climb aboard are robbers or kidnappers — or simply other migrants trying to reach the U.S.
    Hide caption
    Riders also don't know whether newcomers who climb aboard are robbers or kidnappers — or simply other migrants trying to reach the U.S.
    David Rochkind for NPR

1 of 7

View slideshow i

The number of migrants from Central America and Mexico who are trying to cross illegally into the United States has dropped dramatically over the last few years, in part because the trip has become incredibly dangerous. NPR's Jason Beaubien recently traveled along much of the migrant trail in Mexico. He sent this reporter's notebook.

When you start thinking about crossing Mexico without using a plane or a bus or car, Mexico's vastness becomes striking. The shortest route from the Guatemalan border to Brownsville, Texas, is slightly more than 1,000 miles. If you're headed to California and plan to cross at Tijuana, it's more than 2,000 miles.

And now the trek is more perilous than ever.

"I wouldn't recommend this trip to anyone," one Honduran told me as he waited for a bus in southern Mexico. "You don't know who will rob you — who is good, who is bad."

He was kidnapped in 2010 in the midst of this same journey, beaten and forced to pay $3,000 for his freedom.

"But unfortunately in our country," he adds, "we aren't left with any other option except to emigrate."

In 2010 alone, 20,000 migrants were kidnapped and hundreds more were killed or disappeared, according to Mexico's Human Rights Commission.

Talking to dozens of migrants on the route, three strong themes emerged: fear, God and family.

The fear of getting kidnapped hangs over the migrants the entire trip. They're also terrified of Mexican authorities who may demand bribes, or hand them over to kidnappers, or deport them home.

God keeps coming up as the only force that's protecting them. In Mexico, most migrants are in the country illegally. They have nowhere and no one they can turn to for help, they say, except for God.

In between their fear and their faith, many people say this trip is about family. Migrants alone on the road told me that they're doing this for their kids, for a better future. Many left their children back home in El Salvador, Honduras or rural southern Mexico.

"I think of my sons almost constantly," one man told me.

The migrants know they're putting their lives at risk to try to get to the United States, and they're willing to take that gamble.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: