La Bestia: Humanitarian Crisis in the South by Oscar Mata
The accumulation of horrid circumstances that continue to boil throughout South and Central America have resulted in citizens making a desperate attempt to reach the United States. These migrants travel through the unimaginable in order to provide better lives for themselves and the ones they love. For some, riding on top of freight trains that travel through Mexico are the only means of moving north in order to live the life they have always dreamed. The network of trains are collectively known as La Bestia, El Tren de los Desconocidos, and El Tren de la Muerte, which translate to The Beast, The Train of the Unknown, and The Train of Death. They carry an estimated half a million immigrants yearly through the entirety of Mexico, but not all are guaranteed arrival to the U.S. The massive amounts of danger migrants encounter while riding La Bestia expresses the importance of why immigration needs to be enforced by the Mexican government.
Riding on top of freight trains for an approximate fourteen hundred miles comes with its own risks. Those who manage to escape Central America make their way into Mexico by continuously boarding and jumping off moving trains. The results are amputations from the moving wheels that cause major blood loss, shock, and in many cases, death. When riding on top of the trains, anyone can be pushed or thrown off by the ride as it changes speeds or makes turns. Train derailment has also occurred, contributing to the fatality count of those who board La Bestia. People go missing for several days, weeks, and in some cases, are never found when they fall off. Those who manage to stay on the crowded trains find themselves fighting exhaustion, hunger, thirst, and the elements in order to stay alive. Migrants in dire need of food, water, medicine, and clothing are supplied by citizens and organizations who toss grocery bags full of stuff at the moving trains, but they aren’t always fortunate to receive aid.
One migrant, Denis Funes, says, “We’re going to rely on the train, despite everything we know that can happen to us.” Another, Carlos Marroquin with a wife and two kids, says, “If we can’t walk, if we can’t take the bus, we’ll go on the train,” (Stevenson and Perez). Everyone on top of those freight trains knew the dangers but made the decision to go out of desperation. Many have decided to take their children who should be watching cartoons, going to school, and having a childhood. This government has made immoral choices and should even be reprimanded by other countries. The amount of tragedies that happen by riding the trains is enough to call for a humanitarian crisis, but unfortunately, there is more that these migrants must worry about.
Numerous organized crime groups and gangs based in Mexico take advantage of incoming migrants who ride the trains. These criminals force riders to pay fees that allow them to continue their passage “safely.” Even the train conductors commit extortion by accepting bribes to allow migrants to ride. Women and families with children are taken advantage of more often than any other group of riders because they are easier targets. The inability to comply can lead to kidnappings, sexual assault, and in some cases, murder. Larger crime groups work with smaller gangs in order to organize jurisdiction of train routes, which promotes criminal activity to an even further extent. In some cases, gangs “have taken to policing the trains, and removing other criminals” in order to maximize their gains from when they extort people on La Bestia. Because “most are traveling without proper documentation”, some gangs threaten to report the immigrants to Mexican officials (Villegas). The government’s long history with corruption has taken a toll on people trying to ride.
The lack of a strong immigration system allows criminal organizers to do as they please, making the government look like a joke. The country and its citizens can benefit through immigration policy, and there is absolutely no reason to not commit to a change. Without immigrants riding on top of trains to harass, crime will go down immensely, which will increase the safety and security of people in areas where gangs normally operate. The government doesn’t even keep statistics of the amount of people who have been abducted or murdered by crime organizations, but thousands are known to have disappeared. Unfortunately, they don’t care, and it doesn’t appear that much will change in the near future. Their approach is not only irresponsible, but it is inhumane, and it needs to change for the sake of humans who have human rights.
Rather than providing a better option for migrants to travel north, the Mexican government continues to worsen the problem. Increased surveillance and immigration personnel have been placed around the Mexican-Guatemalan border as well as other immigrant hot spots. Checkpoints have been added along popular routes but have been proven to be ineffective because immigrants find ways to avoid them, which puts them at greater danger in many cases. Ignacio Ramirez, director of a migrant shelter assisting immigrants says, “The rise in accidents is because of the militarization of immigration policy,” (Schrank). These actions were the response to headlines and to satisfy the general public rather than to create change. Schrank reports that “President Donald Trump had threatened to impose tariffs” if Mexico “did not commit to doing more to curtail a surge in U.S. bound immigrants,” indicating pressure from the United States as well. Additionally, train operators have responded to state lawsuits by building barriers along railroads to prevent anyone from climbing on board as well as increasing the speed at which trains travel. The majority of humanitarian aid that these immigrants are receiving are from the people rather than the government who continues to worsen the problem.
A government initiative named Grupo Beta has helped immigrants by providing shelter and safety, starting searches for the missing, and providing supplies, but this is the only government involvement that is benefitting the immigrants, and it is not nearly enough. Grupo Beta is an example of how disorganized the Mexican government is, most of it making it harder for immigrants to pass by, but this organization supplies them, educates them, and even rides with them in many cases. Creating a new migration system in Mexico will prevent future incidents and make it easier to travel as a migrant rather than making it harder and indirectly causing more loss and tragedy, but it will take a collective effort with a single vision.
Victims of the humanitarian crisis in Mexico are calling for help, but their pleas are being ignored. Families that choose this path are aware of the risk they are taking but are extremely desperate to give their families a better life away from the unbearable conditions of their home. Knowing that there is a possibility of being thrown off a train, amputated, extorted by the corrupt, kidnapped, robbed, sexually assaulted, or murdered, these migrants still go because they want to go to the United States. Recognizing the danger that awaits them, mothers take their children on La Bestia for a chance of getting to a better and safer place. Citizens of the U.S. take for granted what they are given, but these immigrants, even before arriving, understand the value of living in this country. This ongoing issue does not get the attention that it used to, but it is only growing and getting worse. It is time that those affected begin to be treated like humans with human rights. The Mexican government must begin to enforce immigration, implement policies that benefit the migrants rather than serve as damage control, take responsibility for the lives they are putting at risk, and take responsibility for the lives taken due to their inability to take action.
McDonnell, Patrick J. “As Mexico Cracks down on Migrants, More Risk the Dangerous Train Known as La Bestia.” Los Angeles Times, 2 June 2019, www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-la-bestia-20190602-story.html.
Schrank, Delphine. “Victims of ‘La Bestia,’ Mexico’s Notorious Migrant Train, Learn to Walk Again.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 22 Aug. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-mexico/victims-of-la-bestia-mexicos-notorious-migrant-train-learn-to-walk-again-idUSKCN1VC1XO.
Stevenson, Mark, and Sonia D. Perez. “Migrant Caravan on the ‘Beast’ Train to Avoid Mexican Police Raids and Make It to U.S. Border.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 24 Apr. 2019, www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/04/24/migrant-caravan-central-america-riding-beast-train-mexico/3563922002/.
Taylor, Alan. “An Immigrant’s Journey.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 13 Aug. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2013/08/an-immigrants-journey/100573/.
Villegas, Rodrigo Dominguez. “Central American Migrants and ‘La Bestia’: The Route, Dangers, and Government Responses.” Migrationpolicy.org, 2 Mar. 2017, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-american-migrants-and-“la-bestia”-route-dangers-and-government-responses.
Photo by Tamara Gore on Unsplash