The Migration Journey Continues Despite U.S. Border Policy

Jose Mirabal first tried to come from Honduras to the U.S. 15 years ago, but didn’t make it. As many other people before him and since, he boarded. La Bestia or “The Beast”—an infamously dangerous network of cargo trains that wends north across Mexico. Mirabal, who fell from the train in 2006, had his foot amputated. With a prosthetic, he returned to Honduras.

However, 2020 proved to be a difficult year. COVID-19 caused problems in Honduras’ health and business systems. In November, two devastating hurricanes ravaged the country and left thousands homeless. So in 2021, Mirabel decided to try his chances again—once again traveling to Mexico and boarding La BestiaThis is what he said. He’s 40 now, and the journey is harder on his body. He doesn’t dare take off his prosthetic because he doesn’t want to risk it getting stolen, he says, and if he needed to run away quickly, he wouldn’t have time to put it back on.

“Not all of us run with the same luck,” Mirabal says, speaking in Spanish from Coatzacoalcos, a city in Mexican state of Veracruz. He’s traveling with his cousin. “Some of us run with good luck, and others unfortunately run with the bad luck. My cousin and I, thank God, have been moving day and night…and so far nothing bad has happened to us.”

Freelance photographer Yael Martínez documented Mirabal and several other migrants’ journeys from Honduras, through Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border this year. They crossed the Mexican state Veracruz before arriving in Reynosa, Matamoros. These are Mexican cities that border McAllen, Texas and Brownsville, Texas.

Mirabel and others from Central America and Mexico are trying to enter the U.S. since decades. But this year is a turning point. CBP data shows that U.S. Customs and Border Protection performed more than 1.7million enforcement actions at U.S. Mexico borders during Fiscal Year 2021. It ended September 30, 2018. The enforcement actions included arrests or expulsions pursuant to Title 42. This Trump-era healthcare measure has been maintained by the Biden Administration and used to quickly remove individuals based on the risk posed COVID-19, without granting them entry to the asylum system.

More than 1,000,000 of the 1.7 Million enforcement actions were Title 42 Expulsions during FY2021. According to CBP data, FY2021 set the new record for the most Border Patrol Agents encounters with migrants. Border Patrol carried out nearly 1.66million enforcement actions during FY21. This is more than the 1986 record of 1.62 million.

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According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, the U.S. witnessed an increase in Central American migration beginning in 1980s. This was due to regional civil wars in which the U.S. participated as well as economic instability and displacement. The migration flows from El Salvador and Guatemala to the Northern Triangle, El Salvador and Honduras, never stopped, in particular. From 2007 to 2017, the number of unauthorized migrants from Central America began increasing from previous levels seen in the ’80s, according to the Pew Research Center, while the number of unauthorized migrants from Mexico declined. In Fiscal Year 2014, Central American migrants outnumbered Mexicans for the first-ever time.

However, the U.S. border with Mexico is changing rapidly. According to MPI, Central American migrants are seeking humanitarian protection in the U.S. more often than ever before. They also don’t try to avoid detection by border enforcement officers.

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Then came the Trump Administration’s hardline immigration and border policies such as Zero Tolerance and family separation, metering, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and Title 42, the ramifications of which the Biden Administration is still facing today. Negotiations are underway between the Biden Administration and Mexico to restore MPP in accordance with a Federal Court Order.

This policy has led to overcrowded shelters and dangerous Mexican towns in Mexico. Many thousands of migrants live in temporary tent camps in Tijuana Reynosa and Matamoros.

“There are millions of us migrants,” Mirabal says. “Women with children, with their children on foot, children at their breast. The people are coming who are suffering just trying to find a better life.”

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA estimates that 2.8 million Hondurans are in urgent need of humanitarian aid due to the destruction of homes and businesses by hurricanes Eta (November 2020) and Iota (November 2020). The Brookings Institute is a non-profit policy and research organization that estimates the numbers of Honduran families who were detained at the U.S.–Mexico border in 2012 to 2019, even before the storms. Brookings’ analysts predicted that Hurricanes would lead to an increase of migration from Honduras. According to CBP data, in 2021 the numbers of Honduran families at the border increased from 1,968 in Jan to almost 25,000 by March.

La Bestia isn’t the only danger migrants encounter in Mexico. Migrants traveling on trains or by other means of transportation are frequently targeted by organized crime members who will extort or kidnap for ransom, or rob them. Sexual assaults are common. Mexican officials can deport or find migrants anywhere they want. Trump’s orders, Mexico began to crackdown on migrants crossing its southern border. Although the Mexican government had in the past worked with other administrations to prevent migrants crossing the border to Mexico’s southern border, Trump threatened to put tariffs on the border and close it down.

The dangers aren’t over for anyone who makes it to the U.S./Mexico border. A massacre at the Mexican border has claimed the lives of migrants. Human Rights First (a non-profit advocacy/research organization) has collected more than 6000 reports on violence against migrants in Mexico since the beginning of the Biden Administration.

“I’m not safe in my country nor in Mexico as a refugee,” says Carlos Roberto Tunez, a migrant from Honduras. After being threatened by gangs, he and his family fled Honduras. According to him, the family was first granted asylum in Mexico. They were happy with their new lives there. The family opened up a business that sold Honduran foods. Within a matter of months, however, the family was extorted again by members from an organized crime organization. Tunez, his family, and Mexican police reported Tunez’s extortion. Tunez was then on the run, again hoping for refuge in the U.S.

For Tunez’s wife, Cyndy Cacares, it’s difficult to recount the journey. On May 4, Martínez showed Cacares a portrait he took of her and her son. She was moved to tears by the portrait. “My dream is to give my son a better life, and try to keep going” she said. “I can’t, I just can’t [talk] anymore.”

“It’s really hard for her to talk about this,” Tunez says. “We’ve suffered a lot on the journey here. It’s hard, and it also makes me want to cry having to recount the story… If myself from years ago saw myself now, he’d see someone very different. I’m here full of fear, full of terror more than anything because this is for my son’s life, my wife’s life.”

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