Some walls are made of concrete and razor wire. Others are made of soldiers, violence, bureaucracy and misinformation. While Grupo Mexico has built a long wall to stop migrants from getting on or off its long distance train, “The Beast,” the Mexican government’s Southern Border Plan is also making it much harder for Central American migrants desperately fleeing violence and poverty to travel through the country.
It was a bright, sunny day, though nowhere near as hot as Honduras. Migrants knocked on the door of the refuge in Tlaxcala, central Mexico, exhausted. Eyes dark and half closed, and their feet shredded after having walked for 15 days, they handed their one small bag each over to the volunteers, changed into donated clothing, and threw out their old clothes. The two barrels near the entrance were full to the brim with such clothing.
“Traveling through Guatemala is normal, but it gets harder as soon as you cross into Mexico,” Eric told me.
Under the new plan, implemented since July 2014, migrants generally take a month to pass through Mexico, instead of the nine days or so it used to take. The plan has seen increased security presence along Mexico’s southern border and along the train lines, resulting in increased deportations. Crime against migrants has increased, including robbery, sexual assault, murder, and human trafficking. Activists told the Miami Herald that now nearly all migrants passing through shelters have been a victim of, or witnessed a crime: “The violence comes not only from thugs, but also from authorities who shake down the migrants. They use tasers, demand bribes and beat those who refuse.”
As part of the plan, Grupo Mexico, the giant mining company responsible for the worst environmental spillage in the history of the country and which also controls Mexico’s long distance trains that migrants try to use, built a wall to stop access to the train. The wall, begun in 2013 in Veracruz, chopped a town in half. Made of thick concrete, five meters high and with razor wire on top, so far the wall just makes it harder for tired and injured migrants to make their way to the local refuge. Locals who used to walk across the railway line to get to the market now have to catch a bus around the wall. The local migration institute spokesperson however denied the wall was related to the national plan.
The Honduran migrants in the Tlaxcala refuge said they walked because there was no point staying where they were. Traveling with anything more than a small backpack is too hard, they said, but they always carry a big bottle of water. They ask people for food, but sometimes have to go a day or more without eating. Along the way, one of them said another migrant was thrown off the train and died.
That isn’t uncommon, according to Leticia Gutierrez, director of the Scalabrinianas Mission for Migrants and Refugees. She alleged that the security forces are told to “throw anything moving on the train carriages to their death,” and argued that Mexico’s roll had become one of a filter, so that only the physically strong people who can withstand long working days and “sell themselves at 10 dollars an hour” make it to the US.
Eric hasn’t had enough money for food his whole life. When I asked him if he had any hobbies, he said that all he wanted to do was work. Another man, perhaps a few years younger, was on his way back to the US. He had been working there “day and night and weekends” then migration went to his workplace and deported him. He joked that on that his first journey there he even asked the migrant officer for money, because it had become a habit. In prison in the US he learnt music, and now he really wants to join a band.
Most of the migrants that day in the refuge were young adult men. They explain that women are charged three times more to migrate, and tend to be less visible along the route. Coyotes will typically charge around $6,000 dollars – which most can’t afford, but for those who can, its many times the price of a plane ticket.
“What do you think of Trump’s wall?” I asked them. They looked tired and unmoved.
“Well, it would make it harder. It’s hard now and it would be even harder,” the younger man said. Always joking, that one, he laughed about throwing his papers over the fence first, before he then climbed over it.
What is freedom?
They both walked for 15 days.
The Honduran’s feet were rubble. His nails had ripped off from the rocks and the jumping off trains. His ankle was blistered and cracked and bleeding. A few of the blisters were infected because he’d gone weeks without a shower. His toes were curled and aching because they didn’t fit well in his broken, flapping shoes. He was tired. Because his journey couldn’t be planned properly and lack of food and water left him without energy and without thoughts. His broken feet carried a broken person from Honduras to the US border with the hope that one day, perhaps in a few decades of exploited work, he could make it to dignity.
The hiker’s feet were kings. Soft, blushing, invigorated. His guide paused as he took photos of the mountain views, then applied some more sunscreen. Despite the long walk, his feet weren’t even sweating in his light and durable Scarper backpacking boots. Memory foam surrounded his heels and ankles for comfort, and a biometric midsole provided him with underfoot support. He knew that at the end of his hike there would be a hot shower, a warm bed, and a wonderful evening of boasting.
“It doesn’t matter what they do. There isn’t a wall that can stop people, because somebody always works out a way,” Carlos Marentes, director of the Border Agricultural Workers’ Center told El Paso.
But even though the number of migrants crossing into the US goes down each year, the number of deaths has increased, with 300 to 500 people being killed on the Mexico-US border every year. The number of minors trying to cross however, has gone up, with 20,455 already detained this year.
What many people don’t realize, including Trump, is that Mexico (and its Southern Border Plan) is detaining more Central American migrants than the US. A recent study by Wola found that from October 2014 to April 2015,the US detained 70,440 people, while Mexico detained and deported 92,889 people.
“The US has moved the problem to Mexico, and Mexico has taken on the role of deporter,” said Wola analyst Maureen Meyer.