Mark Stevenson, AP, April 19, 2006
TULTITLAN, Mexico — Considered felons by the government, these migrants fear detention, rape and robbery. Police and soldiers hunt them down at railroads, bus stations and fleabag hotels. Sometimes they are deported; more often officers simply take their money.
While migrants in the United States have held huge demonstrations in recent weeks, the hundreds of thousands of undocumented Central Americans in Mexico suffer mostly in silence.
And though Mexico demands humane treatment for its citizens who migrate to the U.S., regardless of their legal status, Mexico provides few protections for migrants on its own soil. The issue simply isn’t on the country’s political agenda, perhaps because migrants make up only 0.5 percent of the population, or about 500,000 people — compared with 12 percent in the United States.
The level of brutality Central American migrants face in Mexico was apparent Monday, when police conducting a raid for undocumented migrants near a rail yard outside Mexico City shot to death a local man, apparently because his dark skin and work clothes made officers think he was a migrant.
Virginia Sanchez, who lives near the railroad tracks that carry Central Americans north to the U.S. border, said such shootings in Tultitlan are common.
“If you’re carrying any money, they take it from you — federal, state, local police, all of them,” said Carlos Lopez, a 28-year-old farmhand from Guatemala crouching in a field near the tracks in Tultitlan, waiting to climb onto a northbound freight train.
Lopez said he had been shaken down repeatedly in 15 days of traveling through Mexico.
“The soldiers were there as soon as we crossed the river,” he said. “They said, ‘You can’t cross . . . unless you leave something for us.’”
Maria Elena Gonzalez, who lives near the tracks, said female migrants often complain about abusive police.
“They force them to strip, supposedly to search them, but the purpose is to sexually abuse them,” she said.
Others said they had seen migrants beaten to death by police, their bodies left near the railway tracks to make it look as if they had fallen from a train.