Violence forces immigrants to seek new routes towards the U.S.

Due to the increase of crimes against Central Americans, immigrants are forced to find new routes to cross the Mexican state of Oaxaca
Immigrant crossing railway tracks - Photo by Edwin Sánches/EL UNIVERSAL
03/09/2017
11:00
Juan Carlos Zavala
Oaxaca
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When her husband died, Lorena decided to leave her country, her mother, and her four children behind. Thus, she fled her native Guatemala and began her journey across the “Mexican hell” to try and reach the United States. She explains she did so to survive.

As part of her journey across Mexican territory, Lorena traveled with other Central American immigrants on board of a train known as “The Beast”, which they hopped onto in the town of Arriaga, Chiapas. Half an hour later, close to the town of Juchitlán, Oaxaca, seven people carrying firearms demanded that the immigrants jumped off the train with their belongings, otherwise, they would open fire.

Lorena recalls most obeyed the command, but she saw one of her fellow companions being killed with a machete and shot, while the rest surrendered their scant personal belongings to the armed men. As for Lorena herself, she was raped and beaten.

The case of Lorena is not an isolated one. In the last three years, violence against immigrants in Mexico has forced them to look for new routes to cross the state of Oaxaca to avoid becoming victims of crimes.

According to a report by The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), in partnership with other civil organizations, between 2014 and 2016 there were 5 thousand 248 hundred crimes committed against immigrants in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, Sonora, and Coahuila.

According to the Immigrant Orientation Center (COMI), as mentioned in the WOLA report, Oaxaca has seen an increase in abuses and crimes against immigrants, in which several agents of the National Institute of Immigration (INM) have been involved.

Official figures detail there have been reports of robbery, extortion, kidnapping, sexual assault, and illegal incarceration; this increase of violent crimes has modified the traditional immigration routes.

According to priest Fernando Cruz, coordinator of the COMI and The Good Samaritan shelter, immigrants are now crossing almost 367 kilometers into the mountains to arrive at the capital of the state of Oaxaca. On foot, the entire journey would take an approximate of 87 hours – that is, three days and a half without rest.

If they choose to travel along the coast, immigrants have to walk 272 kilometers and then decide whether they go to Oaxaca's capital or continue on their way towards Acapulco, in the neighboring state of Guerrero.

“[The Institute of] Immigration is aware of these new routes,” claims the priest, “but immigrants keep searching for new ones. There are also people smugglers who have found ways to get them across,” he explains.

Ten years ago, William Lara left El Salvador to try to reach the United States in search of better living conditions. In Mexico, he has been robbed three times and kidnapped, without ever receiving support from his native country – according to the WOLA report, consulates and embassies of Central American countries in Oaxaca do not get involved in crimes and abuses against their citizens, they are just focused on administrative processes.

Despite it all, William, who is currently at the Good Samaritan shelter, says he won't return to El Salvador because he fears the violence caused by the Maras and the 18, the two largest criminal gangs of his country.

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