Migrants cross many unguarded parts of Mexico-Guatemala border: NPR


Thousands of desperate Central Americans trying to get to the United States for a better life face a perilous journey. The first 100 miles take them through the jungle.



STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The saying goes that you don’t understand someone until you walk a mile in their place. That’s what NPR’s Carrie Kahn did. She traveled with migrants and refugees on one leg of their journey to the United States. They begin in Central America, in Guatemala. And for many, the first big step is crossing the border into southern Mexico and finding shelter. Carrie found them early on.

(SOUND OF ROTATING BOAT MOTOR)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: A long wooden boat takes off from the banks of the Usumacinta River in Guatemala. I’m crammed with single men and women with kids. The fast ride costs around $2 per person. Everyone is calm and tense, thinking about the arduous journey that awaits them once they enter Mexico.

JOSUE DEL CERRO: (speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “It’s tough,” Josue Del Cerro from Honduras tells me as the boat picks up speed. In Mexico, migrants face all kinds of dangers – theft, extortion by corrupt officials and, of course, getting caught. Del Cerro himself was sent back to Honduras earlier this year and is trying again.

(SOUND OF BOAT MOTOR CUTS OUT)

KAHN: The boat arrives at the rocky coast of Mexico. Everyone is hurrying. No Mexican agent is in sight, no National Guard troops, none of the more than 8,000 federal forces that Mexico says it has sent to patrol its borders. The women and children are quickly whisked away by paid guides, smugglers, who take them into waiting taxis. For single men, however, like Del Cerro, who has almost no money, the hardest part is about to begin – a 100-mile trek through this corner of Mexico’s southernmost jungle. .

DEL CERRO: (speaking Spanish).

KAHN: It takes four to five days just to get to the nearest town, where there is a shelter for the migrants and buses they can take to go further north. But Del Cerro says, by the time you limp in this town, Palenque, you can barely stand. This trek has become the route of the poorest of the poor and is dominated by Hondurans. Along the highway you see groups of 10, 15, up to 30 people walking. Jose Vanegra is at the back of a single line of six guys. Vanegra struggles to keep up as he heals a nasty blister.

JOSE VANEGRA: (speaking Spanish).

KAHN: While most of the media attention focuses on unaccompanied children entering the United States, 60% of migrants apprehended at the US border last month were single adults. Vanegra is lean, with a gaunt face that makes him look much older than 21. He says he couldn’t find work in Honduras, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its economy has been hit even harder by the pandemic and two consecutive hurricanes last year.

VANEGRA: (speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “I’m going to work in the United States. I like to work. I don’t like to sit around doing nothing,” says Vanegra. He picks up speed and I watch the men disappear, swept away into the lush landscape of tall jungle trees and thick grass in all shades of green.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIGHWAY ATMOSPHERE)

KAHN: There are no shoulders on the highway, nothing between the migrants and the racing vehicles and the long-haul trucks on the road. Signs warn of jaguars, temperatures over 100 degrees and humidity makes it feel hotter.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIGLET OINKING)

KAHN: A piglet is tied to a large tree shading the small wooden cabin where State Police Officer Angel Antonio Villareal sits. He’s manning one of three checkpoints on the highway.

ANGEL ANTONIO VILLAREAL: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: But he is quick to say that it is not the job of the state police to arrest migrants. He’s actually there to respond to a series of road robberies. He even distributes water to passing migrants. And Christian Martinez is more than willing to take a break here. He is 27 years old and comes from northern Honduras.

CHRISTIAN MARTINEZ: (Through interpreter) There’s no work, so much violence. We have a corrupt government that does nothing for us.

KAHN: Migrants going up and down the highway use the same list of reasons for leaving Honduras today. Jesus Diaz travels with Martinez and his brother. She’s one of the few women I see on the road. Those two are all his reasons for leaving. But she tells how she lost hope and collapses while telling me her story. She is 21 years old and has been working since she was 7 years old.

JESUS ​​DIAZ: (Through interpreter) And you are my age, an adult, and you realize that you have done nothing and you have nothing. This is the saddest part.

KAHN: She doesn’t want to get married or have children. She doesn’t want to give birth to them.

DIAZ: (through interpreter) They suffer and you suffer. You can’t give them anything – no education, nothing.

KAHN: She has three nieces in the United States, and they told her she could get a job and go to school there. Diaz says the group has been walking for three days, and they’ve been walking until sunset and sleeping wherever darkness catches them on the side of the highway.

(NIGHT AMBIANCE SOUNDBITE)

KAHN: Nightfall in the jungle is noisy. It also provides cover for those still walking and hoping to pass the final checkpoint on the highway, just 4 miles from Palenque. This one is maintained by Mexican immigration officers. This year, authorities say they have returned more than 10,000 Central Americans, most to Honduras.

(CAR DOOR CLOSING SOUNDBITE)

KAHN: One night at the checkpoint, I see immigration officers order four Hondurans they have just picked up in a van to be deported. But clearly, hundreds managed to pass and enter the town of Palenque. I see this once I arrive at a local migrant shelter. It is filled to capacity. Exhausted travelers spill into the hillside streets surrounding the refuge. The scale of the number of people, especially young men, fleeing Honduras these days is staggering.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER: (Spanish speaking).

KAHN: Volunteer worker yells at migrants outside – only those who haven’t been here the night before can come in, he says; the others will have to spend another night on the street, like 25-year-old Angel Correa Perez.

ANGEL CORREA PEREZ: (speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says he’s Honduran and jokes that he came looking for the American dream. He has just completed the grueling 100 mile trek. But to get to the American border, he still has at least a thousand more to go.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Palenque, Mexico.

(LAWRENCE BLATT SOUNDBITE “MOVE UM OUT”)

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