New Perils In Mexico For U.S.-Bound Migrants The U.S. economic downturn and tighter border security has not deterred migrants from Central America seeking to enter the United States. But they are being abused in new and alarming ways. Tens of thousands of them are robbed, kidnapped and even killed attempting to cross Mexico.
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New Perils In Mexico For U.S.-Bound Migrants

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New Perils In Mexico For U.S.-Bound Migrants

New Perils In Mexico For U.S.-Bound Migrants

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

For Central American migrants trying to reach the U.S., the dangers are many: tighter border restrictions and the bad economy in the U.S. are only one side of the picture. Each year, tens of thousands of migrants are robbed, kidnapped, even killed in Mexico, as they attempt to cross the country.

NPR's Mexico correspondent, Jason Beaubien, has been listening to some migrants' stories.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Two months ago, 29-year-old Maria Penya Rivas(ph) decided to give up on Honduras. Her country, which was already one of the poorest in the hemisphere, is in turmoil as two men lay claim to the presidency. Penya sent her 9-year-old son off to live with her mother. She moved her 11-year-old daughter in with her grandmother. And then Penya and two of her friends set off for the United States. They had just crossed the border between Guatemala and Mexico when a group of young men surrounded them.

Ms. MARIA PENYA RIVAS: (Foreign Language Spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The same day that we entered was the day they attacked us, Penya says. They shoved me down into a ravine, and I broke my left arm. She passed out. When she woke up, she was in a hospital and all of her possessions � her money, her clothes, her passport � were gone.

Ms. RIVAS: (Foreign Language Spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Including my friends, my companions, I never found out anything about them, she says. Penya was transferred to five different public hospitals before ending up at the Albergue Jesus el Buen Pastor in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula. Among the residents at this shelter, Penya is one of the lucky ones. Many of the others are recovering from amputations after falling under the beast � a freight train that's a major mode of transportation for Central American migrants. Donyea Olga Sanchez Martinez(ph) runs the shelter.

Ms. DONYEA OLGA SANCHEZ MARTINEZ (Founder, Albergue Jesus el Buen Pastor): (Foreign Language Spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We get women who have been raped, men who have been raped, she says. People come in who have been attacked, people who have had different types of accidents on the road. We take them in. Donyea Olga says in the past, she rarely heard of anyone trying to kidnap migrants, but now it is common. Los Zetas, the enforcement arm of one of the Mexican drug cartels, charge fees for migrants to pass, and they abduct others. With a tropical rain pounding down on her roof, Donyea Olga says migrants are like bait, attracting criminals and corrupt officials.

Ms. MARTINEZ: (Foreign Language Spoken)

BEAUBIEN: They're carrying a little bit of money. Some have sold their TV or their small house back in their country, she says. And they're carrying this money with them. Donyea Olga says the number of people heading north has gone down somewhat as word spreads that it's harder to get to the U.S. and harder to find work. But she adds�

Ms. MARTINEZ: (Foreign Language Spoken)

BEAUBIEN: No crisis is going to affect the flow of migrants, she says. Our neighboring countries are very poor. The people continue to try to find better opportunities. And their goal is the United States. Mexico's Human Rights Commission, in a report issued earlier this year, said roughly 1,500 migrants get kidnapped each month trying to cross Mexico.

Last month, the Mexican army stormed a house in Veracruz and found 25 Central American migrants being held for ransom. A couple of days later, the military freed 120 migrant hostages in a compound in Reynosa, just across from McAllen, Texas. The kidnappers often kill or severely beat one of the hostages to convince the others that they're serious.

Mr. WILLY GOODMAN: If they find me on the train, they're going to kill me. They're going to kidnap me, they're going to take my money.

BEAUBIEN: Willy Goodman, who was born in El Salvador but grew up in Los Angeles, is in Tapachula trying to get a Mexican visa because he's terrified of crossing Mexico illegally.

Mr. GOODMAN: One of the things that people do is they call your family. When you're on the train, they say, you have a family in United States? And when you say, yes, they get the phone and they start calling your family. They say, if you don't give me $2,000 or $3,000, this man is going to die.

BEAUBIEN: Goodman says he was deported four months ago to El Salvador for driving without a license. Goodman is 37 years old. The last time he made this journey, he was 14. He is not worried about crossing from Tijuana back into San Diego. He says that will be easy. Right now, his big concern is getting from Mexico's southern tip to its northernmost city.

Mr. GOODMAN: My wife, she's American. She's a citizen. That's one of the things I want to go back because I don't want to lose my family.

BEAUBIEN: Two months after he was sent back to El Salvador, his wife gave birth to their first child. Goodman says he is kicking himself for never getting his U.S. immigration status sorted out.

Mr. GOODMAN: One day, we'll be together and this is going to be a bad dream. And I'm never going to drive again. It's one of the things, you know, I'm learning. It cost me a lot.

BEAUBIEN: And he doesn't want it to cost him his life. So right now, he's waiting in Tapachula until he can get a proper Mexican visa and travel to Tijuana legally before trying to cross illegally into the U.S.


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