Ian Gordon

Ian Gordon

Copy Editor

When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Mexican Government: Freight Trains Are Now Off-Limits to Central American Migrants

| Sat Jul. 12, 2014 12:20 PM EDT

On Thursday, a freight train derailed in southern Mexico. It wasn't just any train, though: It was La Bestia—"the Beast"—the infamous train many Central American immigrants ride through Mexico on their way to the United States. When the Beast went off the tracks this week, some 1,300 people who'd been riding on top were stranded in Oaxaca.

How do 1,300 people fit on a cargo train, you ask? By crowding on like this:

Central Americans on the Beast, June 20 Rebecca Blackwell/AP

After years of turning a blind eye to what's happening on La Bestia, the Mexican government claims it now will try to keep migrants off the trains. On Friday, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said in a radio interview that the time had come to bring order to the rails. "We can't keep letting them put their lives in danger," he said. "It's our responsibility once in our territory. The Beast is for cargo, not passengers."

The announcement comes on the heels of President Obama's $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request to deal with the ongoing surge of unaccompanied Central American child migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. Many Central Americans take the trains to avoid checkpoints throughout Mexico—and the robbers and kidnappers known to prey on migrants. But riding the Beast can be even more perilous. Migrants often must bribe the gangs running the train to board, and even then, the dangers are obvious: Many riders have died falling off the train, or lost limbs after getting caught by its slicing wheels.

Why, though, hasn't the Mexican government cracked down sooner? Adam Isacson, a regional-security expert at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, says the responsibility of guarding the trains often has fallen to the rail companies—who usually turn around and argue that since the tracks are on government land, it should be the feds' problem. (Notably, the train line's concession is explicitly for freight, not passengers.)

In his radio interview, Osorio Chang also signaled a tougher stance against Central American migrants, in general. "Those who don't have a visa to move through our country," he said, "will be returned."

For more of Mother Jones' reporting on unaccompanied child migrants, see all of our latest coverage here.

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Watch the Ads Obama Is Airing in Central America to Keep Kids From Coming to the US

| Thu Jul. 10, 2014 4:59 PM EDT

Preparing for his dangerous trip north, a Central American teen stops to pen a letter to his uncle in the United States. He writes that his mom is telling him to think hard about the risks: the gangs on the trains, the cartels that kidnap migrants, the days of walking through the desert. But those roadblocks, he writes, are worth it: "I see myself earning a bunch of money in the United States, and my mom here without any worries."

So begins a new public service announcement aimed at keeping Central American kids from joining the tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants who have been apprehended by US authorities in the last year. The PSA soon turns dark, though: After the teen says goodbye to his mother, and his uncle puts down the letter he's been reading, the camera pulls back from a close-up of the boy, dead on the desert floor. A narrator urges viewers: "They're our future. Let's protect them."

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) developed the TV ads, as well as posters and marimba-infused radio spots, as part of its million-dollar Dangers Awareness Campaign. Rolled out shortly after Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Guatemala in June, the campaign is an attempt to counter rumors that unaccompanied kids will be allowed to stay in the United States. The ads emphasize that the journey is extremely dangerous and that children won't get legal status if they make it across the border.

The campaign will run for 11 weeks, CBP spokesman Jaime Ruiz told the Associated Press. "We want a relative that is about to send $5,000, $6,000 to a relative in El Salvador to see this message and say, 'Oh my God, they're saying that the journey is more dangerous,'" Ruiz said. "We try to counter the version of the smuggler."

Here's the other televised PSA, in which two silhouettes—a would-be migrant and a smuggler—discuss heading north, the smuggler turning increasingly aggressive and his shadow occasionally turning into that of a coyote, the slang word for a smuggler:

(Notably, CBP created slightly different versions of each of the stories for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the three countries that have sent the most unaccompanied minors to the US. Watch them all here.)

This type of campaign isn't anything new. For years, the Mexican government has produced ads about the dangers of walking through the Arizona desert, and several years ago the Department of Homeland Security, as part of CBP's Border Safety Initiative, distributed CDs to Latin American radio stations with sad songs aimed at slowing immigration from the south. With so many variables at play, it's virtually impossible to measure their effect.

But with more than 57,000 unaccompanied kids apprehended in the United States since October—a situation that CBP head R. Gil Kerlikowske called "difficult and distressing on a lot of levels" when speaking to members of the Senate homeland security committee on Wednesday—the government seems willing to try anything.

Map: These Are the Places Central American Child Migrants Are Fleeing

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 2:48 PM EDT

A recently produced infographic from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the majority of unaccompanied children coming to the United States are from some of the most violent and impoverished parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The map documents the origins of child migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol from January 1 to May 14. It was made public by Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, and it includes the following analysis about the surge in child migrants:

…Many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating that they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the US. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home.

This echoes what I found in my yearlong investigation into the explosion of unaccompanied child migrants arriving to the United States. As I wrote in the July/August issue of Mother Jones:

Although some have traveled from as far away as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, the bulk are minors from Mexico and from Central America's so-called Northern Triangle—Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which together account for 74 percent of the surge. Long plagued by instability and unrest, these countries have grown especially dangerous in recent years: Honduras imploded following a military coup in 2009 and now has the world's highest murder rate. El Salvador has the second-highest, despite the 2012 gang truce between Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Guatemala, new territory for the Zetas cartel, has the fifth-highest murder rate; meanwhile, the cost of tortillas has doubled as corn prices have skyrocketed due to increased American ethanol production (Guatemala imports half of its corn) and the conversion of farmland to sugarcane and oil palm for biofuel.

Below is a more granular look at where kids are coming from, also produced by DHS. San Pedro Sula, the world's most violent city, was home to the largest number of child migrants caught by the Border Patrol (more than 2,500). Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, sent the second-most kids, fewer than 1,000.

 

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