Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Migrant’s Dream of Reaching the U.S. Cut Short in Mexico

By Carlin Christy
International Team - Mexico

Like many other Central Americans, nineteen-year-old Julio Fernando Cardona Agustín left behind his loved ones and his home in Guatemala in search of better opportunities in the United States. Originally from a village in the eastern part of the country, Julio Fernando was indigenous Mam. His Spanish was limited, which would present an additional challenge to life in the United States as he would face the struggle of not only learning English, but also Spanish.

Upon arriving in Arriaga, Chiapas in late July, Julio Fernando joined a caravan comprised of migrants, activists for migrants’ rights, and family members whose loved ones have disappeared or lost their lives on the journey northwards. One of the caravan leaders was Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde, who runs a migrant shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca. For years, he has been an outspoken critic of the abuses endured by the hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants who, pushed by poverty and political insecurity in their homelands, cross Mexico each year in hopes of reaching the United States.

Entitled “Paso a Paso Hacia la Paz” (Step by Step Toward Peace), the caravan called for an end to the abuses regularly endured by these migrants and demanded reforms to their legal status while passing through Mexico. The caravan traversed two of the routes commonly taken by Central American migrants and finished in Mexico City.

During a meeting with the Senate’s Human Rights Commission, caravan members insisted the Mexican government stop acting like policemen for the United States. Father Solalinde further criticized the government’s attitude of submission towards U.S. interests, whilst acting like “a*******” towards Central Americans. Additionally, migrants gave testimonies about the myriad of dangers they face, from organized criminal groups to local thugs, police at all levels, and even immigration officials. These abuses include theft, extortion, beatings, kidnappings, rape, forced prostitution, and murder. Not to mention the inherent dangers of riding on top of “La Bestia” (The Beast) or “El Tren de la Muerte” (The Death Train), as migrants commonly refer to the high-speed cargo trains that serve as a means of transportation northwards.

Despite these obstacles that regularly result in the injury, disappearance, and murder of migrants, on August 2nd Julio Fernando arrived safely in a migrant shelter in the state of Mexico, along with other caravan participants. The shelter, Casa San Juan Diego, is located near the train tracks in the municipality of Tultitlán. It is known as a high risk zone among migrants and has earned the nickname “the town of death.” As one local resident states, “Here they can kill any migrant, and no one says anything. Anyone of them (can be killed). Above all by police, and no one says anything at all, it’s not even investigated.”

It was perhaps with this mindset that municipal police picked up Julio Fernando as he rested in the train yard near the shelter just days after his arrival. Witnesses say he was detained by police, accused of partaking in a robbery, and taken into their custody. Hours later, Julio Fernando’s body was found near the train tracks; the victim of a severe attack that ended his life. Police deny any involvement in the murder and the case is currently under investigation.


Julio Fernando’s death deeply affected other migrants, and those who had participated with him
in the Paso a Paso Hacia la Paz Caravan. In response, on Saturday, August 13th, they planned to march from the San Juan Diego shelter, to the site where his body was found.

Sadly, this act of remembrance was met with hostility from a group of around 30 people, who gathered outside the shelter and prevented the group from leaving. Claiming that migrants bring problems and violence to the community, they called for the shelter’s closure. Attempts were made to enter the building, presumably to forcibly remove the migrants and staff who were gathered inside.

Despite some local opposition to the migrants’ presence in the community, other neighbors claim that the violence comes mostly from local police, who take advantage of the migrants’ irregular status in the country.

While investigators take up the question of who and what exactly caused Julio Fernando’s death
, his family in Guatemala is preparing for the burial of their loved one. Julio Fernando’s dream of working in the U.S. in order to support his grandparents and eight-month-old daughter back home will never be realized. Tragically, he is now among the thousands who have lost their lives on a forced journey to find decent work opportunities in the very country whose trade policies help to destroy any chance for economic security in Central America.

Photos courtesy of Irineo Mujica Arzate.

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