One step away from arriving. Mexico and its migratory reality

Photo: People in a migration situation boarding “La Bestia”. (Rodolfo Azomoza)

Article by: Rodolfo Azamoza Pastor

“Someone can endure anything, except the death of a child”.

Maria and her family were forced to leave the island of Roatan, Honduras due to the murder of their son, and now they are crossing through Mexico in their quest to reach the United States. Migration has many ways of unfolding, but it is often not seen for what it is: the mobilization of thousands of lives in search of a new beginning.

The causes of migration are complex and, in many cases, historical. Violence by organized crime, lack of job opportunities, forced displacement and failed states are some of the causes that provoke the need to migrate. In many of these situations, it is not even the person in a migration situation who makes the decision: it is determined by the circumstances in which he/she finds him/herself and the reality that surrounds him/her.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in the year 2020, more than 280 million people are in a situation of migration, which is equivalent to 3.6% of the world’s population. In the Mexican context, according to the Migration Policy, Registration and Identity of Persons Unit, in the year 2021, 309,692 people crossed through Mexico in an unregulated manner.

Internationally, Mexico has always represented an important country in terms of human mobility – historically as a country of expulsion – but currently becoming a country of transit, specifically in the context of Central American migration to the United States. However, the road through Mexico is far from simple and the migration authorities are not a safety net either; in fact, they may appear to be quite the opposite. This episode of the El Hilo podcast explains a recent incident in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.

Incidents such as the one that occurred in Ciudad Juarez on March 27; the famous “zero tolerance” law, by which more than 2,700 children were separated from their families at the Mexican-American border; or the discovery of 53 bodies of migrants trapped in a semi-trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas in 2022, all explain to us that the panorama faced by people in a migration situation is complicated in each of its stages.

To understand the migration landscape in Mexico, it is important to have an understanding of the migration policy, which, according to Mexico’s Migration Policy, Registration and Identity of Persons Unit, is as follows:

Families walking along the railroad tracks, Huichapan, Hidalgo. Photo: Rodolfo Azomoza.

“In this context and starting from full respect for human rights, inclusion and gender perspective, the migration policy of the Government of Mexico (2018-2024) is constituted on the basis of a paradigm, whose center is the migrant person and the social and economic development as the sustenance of human mobility in a regular, orderly and safe manner.”

The migratory panorama in Mexico, explained by the federal agencies in charge, shows us that migrants have rights, that they should not be imprisoned, that they should be respected as individuals without distinction based on personal characteristics and that the State is committed to promoting safe and orderly human mobility. But the reality unfolds in a different way.

Transit stories

Maria (Honduras)

Listening to people passing through Mexico is living proof that the reality is very different from what is expressed by the authorities. Maria is a woman from Roatan, a small island in northern Honduras. She was forced to leave her country due to the murder of her son.

María says that living in Roatán was a dream: the tropical climate that every day raised her with energy, the brightness of the sun reflected in the leaves of the palm trees, the communal care shared by the people living on the island… but it is a dream that can no longer continue. The murder of her son came with a threat from the island’s gangs: “If you stay here, we will take away your other son.”

Original audio:

As a mother, she knew there was no other option, so she took her family and put her entire house in a suitcase. Without looking back, Maria set off north, arriving to Mexico through the state of Chiapas. Having the economic capacity to move, Maria and her family traveled by bus until they reached the center of the country. However, they found it necessary to change means of transportation, and so in the state of Hidalgo they decided, as a family, to get on La Bestia (The Beast).

Maria’s story is not an isolated event. During the course of her journey she met many families in the same situation. The group she was traveling with included a 24-year-old Honduran man, a couple from Venezuela, an older woman traveling alone, a single mother with her eight-year-old son, and Maria’s family, her husband and second son. Maria and her husband made the decision to leave their youngest son with her husband’s parents because the difficulty of the trip would be too much for the little boy.

“This is the hardest thing I have ever done,” says Maria about making the decision to emigrate, and she is grateful to God every day for taking care of her on her journey. Maria did not expect the territorial dimension that Mexico has and comments that it has undoubtedly been the most difficult country for her to cross. The complexity of the terrain, the susceptibility to violence, the distance and the hygiene and health care are the main characteristics that Maria mentions.

Maria’s son has lost weight since the beginning of the trip and gets sick constantly. Similarly, the son of the other mother traveling in the same group commented that her little boy lost eight kilos and began to show symptoms of malnutrition, requiring several days in the hospital after being admitted. Maria also commented that she was detained at an immigration station during the processing of her immigration permit, which gives her 45 days to leave the country.

It is important to mention that, according to the United Nations (UN), Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of movement. The document explains that internally displaced persons have the right to seek a temporary or permanent solution within or outside their country and should not be detained for doing so. “The stay in the migration centers is bad, the food is poor, you are under surveillance all the time, the migration agents are rude and do not help you in any way and the place was neglected and in terrible conditions,” commented Maria about her experience.

Wilmer (Honduras)

Originally from Venezuela, Wilmer was forced to emigrate due to his brother’s relationship with the organized crime gang Los Colectivos in Caracas. Although they do not carry weapons, this group answers directly to the Venezuelan government and is considered a dangerous organization with strong connections and considerable resources.

The event that triggered the need for Wilmer and his family to flee was a confrontation between Los Colectivos and one of the gangs operating in the capital, resulting in the gang’s victory. At the conclusion of the confrontation, Wilmer’s brother fled the country. As a result, Wilmer’s family was threatened and had to abandon their lives in Venezuela.

They first arrived in Ecuador, where, despite not living in the best situation, they were able to settle for three years. However, low wages due to their immigration status and increased violence prompted Wilmer to leave the country.

The natural divide that separates South America from Central America is known as the Darien. It is a swampy jungle region located on the border between Colombia and Panama. All migrants from South America who do not have the economic capital to travel by boat or plane must cross the Darien on foot. For Wilmer and his family, this was the hardest part.

“That part is very tough, very, very tough. We were very lucky; if you took the wrong road you would be kidnapped, robbed or killed.” In 2022, 36 people were reported to have died while migrating in the Darien jungle. It is estimated that this figure is much higher, but the lack of access to the area makes it impossible to obtain the bodies and, therefore, to have a complete record.

Beyond that point, the rest of the journey was easy for Wilmer and his family. Before boarding La Bestia bound for Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Wilmer shared the following reflection on the treatment of migrants and the perception that many Mexicans have about them.

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This is because of the bad treatment he and his family have received from Mexicans. He commented that he has been the victim of insults in different parts of the country, that people stare at him and his family, and that the treatment he has received from immigration agents has been very bad. In addition, the police have detained him multiple times and he has had to pay bribes to avoid being arrested, a situation that many other migrants experience in the country.

Joseph (Guatemala)

Joseph’s family is from the northwestern region of Guatemala, where the Mam language is spoken. “I am Chapín at heart. So Joseph began to tell his story, sharing that his family’s roots are indigenous. His arrival in Mexico was a consequence of a strong heroin addiction with which he battled for many years; it was here that he managed to put an end to it.

Joseph works temporarily at the shelter Casa del Peregrino Migrante, which is located in Huichapan, Hidalgo. Here he formed a close relationship with the shelter’s coordinator and staff, which is why he decided to stay. However, his stay is not permanent and he must return to renew his work permit.

“People with stronger stories than mine pass through here, suffering persecution and economic crisis problems.” The work Joseph has done has helped him with his own problems, as he explains: “This is how I have been able to serve other people”. That is why he explains he finds it strange to have to return home, where, in spite of having more comforts, his family has become a bit alien to him.

The distant relationship with his family is not a new situation for Joseph. His father emigrated to Canada in 1985 due to the war in Guatemala, leaving most of his family in his native country. Having a divided family has always marked his reality. However, as he says, it has never gotten easier.

” Knowing that I still have family in Guatemala is horrible.”

Remnants of the road, Hidalgo. Photo: Rodolfo Azomoza.

Joseph knows he must go to Canada, where his mother and two siblings now live as well. However, his identity is fragmented by the impact his father’s migration has had on his life. For the time being he decides to stay in Mexico, because he understands the immense difficulty of migration and its great effects on people’s lives.

Original audio:

“The immigration situation in Mexico is very difficult.” Although Joseph chooses to be in Mexico because he loves the country, he has seen firsthand how migrants are treated here. He told a story about a local criminal who entered the shelter armed and assaulted all the migrants staying there. When the authorities were called, they refused to act, because “these were people who were illegally in the country,” and threatened to arrest them and turn them over to the immigration authorities if they continued to contact the police.

Shelters, oasis in the migratory desert

“Welcome everyone: Brother, even if you miss your family. You have a home here.”
House of the migrant pilgrim, Huichapan, Hidalgo. Photo: Rodolfo Azomoza.

Migrant shelters, non-profit and self-financed institutions, are the only place in Mexico where migrants are able to rest their heads and catch their breath. They offer spaces that usually go unnoticed outside of that reality: bathrooms, beds, laundry facilities, food and security.

Receiving places should be outside of governmental control, since they act merely as a temporary place of stay and their purpose is to serve and accompany migrants. It is important to separate them from migration centers or migrant detention centers, which belong to the government and have as their main function the detention, processing and, eventually, the expulsion of foreigners in an irregular situation.

According to a 2019 CNDH report, Mexico has 30 Migration Stations, mostly installed between 2000 and 2010. Together, they have a combined capacity to house 2,226 migrants.

Mexico, a vertical border

The Vertical Border, a feature-length documentary that portrays in detail the challenges faced by migrants arriving in Mexico, was presented in 2022. From organized crime, which orchestrates coordinated kidnappings of migrants in order to obtain their ransoms in dollars, to unjust detentions by Mexican immigration authorities.

There is a major problem that harms migration at the national level and it is the vulnerability that human mobility entails and the risks to which the migratory person can be exposed, all of which are diverse and complex. It is necessary to understand that, in many cases, in order to enter the United States, Central American migrants must apply from Mexican territory. The waiting periods for responses can be extended, which exacerbates the situation of danger.

The reality of the people who experience migration and the position that the country claims to have, seem to be total opposites. The life stories collected throughout this report demonstrate a strong failure on the part of the Mexican State in its handling of the migration process. It is crucial that the migration dynamics improve, because the human rights of people are being violated and, therefore, the physical, moral and psychological integrity of those who are only looking for a better quality of life.

Original text
Translated by Scools for Chiapas.

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