Despite risks, Central Americans keep heading north

MEXICO CITY - A recent Pew Hispanic Center Report found a leveling in the number of Mexicans arriving in the United States and those heading back to Mexico, but omitted another group: Central Americans, who are heading north in ever larger numbers, despite dangers along the route.

"During this season the flow of Central American migrants out of Central America has increased in an exaggerated way," said Scalabrini Sister Leticia Gutierrez, director of the Mexican bishops' human mobility ministry.

The trend reflects difficulties in Central America, where poverty and violence have led to an outflow of migrants who, Sister Leticia said, would rather run the risk of being kidnapped, robbed or raped along the road than starve back home. Additional challenges include crossing an increasingly fortified Mexico-U.S. border and anti-immigrant attitudes in the United States.

The migrants "aren't scared anymore," she said, referring to the chill after an August 2010 massacre of 72 undocumented Central and South Americans by Los Zetas, the soldiers-turned-cartel toughs. Los Zetas and other criminal groups kidnap migrants for ransom and recruitment reasons, often with the collusion of crooked public officials, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission has reported.

Central Americans - especially Hondurans - know the risks, but head north, anyway.

"An indication of what's happening in the country is that 40,000 people were deported (back here) from various countries," said Ileana Morales, researcher with the Tegucigalpa-based Honduras Social Forum on Foreign Debt and Development. "It speaks of the flow of people that are trying to leave the country."

Numbers are difficult to come by, but Sister Leticia and others working with migrants say shelters in southern parts of Mexico are receiving double the number of guests as last year, and northbound trains have been carrying 1,500 migrants at a time.

The number of Central American migrants arriving at Belen Inn of the Migrant shelter in Saltillo, some 190 miles from the Texas border at Laredo, has tripled since December, going from 80 guests to more than 240.

The shelter's director, Father Pedro Pantoja, and his staff warn the migrants of the risks of the road. They said an increasing number now take advantage of repatriation programs offered by the National Institute of Migration and various Central American governments.

The St. Juan Diego shelter along the railway lines to the north of Mexico City reports an influx of Central American guests, too. The newspaper El Universal reported April 24 the shelter was receiving 1,400 guests weekly, requiring it to limit stays to just a single night.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970