Mexico, hell on earth for migrants

“If I go back to my country, I'll be killed,” said Max, an Honduran migrant who received death threats from members of Mara Salvatrucha after refusing to join their gang and sell drugs.

EL UNIVERSAL/file photo
English 29/12/2016 15:33 Axel Avendaño Actualizada 15:56
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Having to cross Mexico to get to the United States can become the worst nightmare for many migrants, especially for those from Central America, who repeatedly report human rights abuses, often at the hands of Mexico's armed forces. Due to their widespread exploitation, they've become a lucrative market for organized crime, which is now valued at 10 billion dollars per year, according to researchers at the Ibero-American University, one of Mexico's and Latin America's most prestigious private universities.

“If life is difficult in Mexico for many Mexicans, then it's a nightmare for Central Americas. The violation of their human rights is widespread and a major problem,” said José Martín Íñiguez Ramos, a history professor and researcher at the Ibero-American University.

During the university's conference “Migrants: What are they escaping from and where are they headed to?”, José Martín said that the federal government's Southern Border Plan (Programa Forntera Sur) has forced Mexico to act as U.S.'s “border patrol,” since, he argues, it makes Mexico's armed forces persecute migrants and treat them like criminals.

As an example, the university's coordinator of Migration Studies Javier Urbano says that one-third of human rights violations are committed by government agents or people with ties to government authorities.

According to Javier, there are an average of 100,000 high and low-impact crimes committed against migrants that are reported every year. These crimes include disappearances, murder, rape, mutilation, human trafficking, abductions and extortion.

“Everyone takes advantage of them. They don't see them as human,” said Javier, who added that between 35,000 and 70,000 migrants have gone missing in Mexico over the last two decades.

“The dehumanization of migrants starts from below. For example, a bottle of water that costs a Mexican 10 pesos (around US$0.50) will cost a migrant 50 pesos (around US$2.50) at the same store.”

These practices have helped turn migration into the third most profitable activity after human trafficking and drug trafficking for criminal groups.

Central Americans pay cartel members or government authorities between 3,500 and 5,000 dollars to make it safely to the U.S.-Mexico border, and migrants who cross through South America and Central America before even reaching Mexico pay considerably more, between 10,000 and 20,000 dollars.

The fact that it's become so expensive and dangerous for migrants to get to the U.S. and because Mexico has cracked down on illegal immigration in recent years, the number of migrants reaching the country has dropped considerably. According to the professors from the Ibero-American University, the number of migrants who entered the U.S. illegally dropped from 400,000 – 420,000 in 2007 to around 200,000 - 220,000 in 2015.

However, despite all these risks, making it to the U.S. is the only option for many Central Americans.

“If I go back to my country, I'll be killed,” said Max, a 27-year-old migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, who received death threats from members of Mara Salvatrucha after refusing to join their gang and sell drugs. “I had to leave my country, not because I wanted to. And now here I am as a migrant.” Max left Honduras eight months ago. He entered Mexico illegally through Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, and is currently in a Mexico City migrant shelter. “I feel grateful to have made it to Mexico's capital. Many of my compatriots never even make it this far.”

Germán Alejandro, another Central American migrant at the shelter, claims that a leader of Mara Salvatrucha stole his identity. When he tried to report it to the police, the death threats started pouring in and he decided to leave his country. “My wife and I decided to come to Mexico. It was a painful decision. My life changed from one day to the next. I never thought I would have to live this nightmare.” 

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