Central American Migrants Face More Hurdles

Deborah Bonello and Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2008

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Tens of thousands of Central Americans traverse Mexico illegally each year on their way to the U.S. border. The trek, which can involve perilous journeys by boat and through isolated countryside and mean city streets, often ends unhappily.

Migrants have been maimed or killed hopping aboard freight trains. Others are robbed or raped. Often, they are arrested, and held in squalid cells or denied medical care. In hundreds of cases, Central American families never hear from their relatives again.

In a sign of Mexico’s worsening crime problem, kidnapping gangs are increasingly targeting Central American migrants, officials and migrant rights activists say.

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Armed attackers prowl the migrant trail from Mexico’s southern border, often with the collusion of crooked police.

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Townspeople in the central state of Puebla made headlines in October when they came to the rescue of dozens of Central Americans who had been seized, with the help of local police, in an apparent effort to extort money from relatives in the United States.

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Mistreatment of Central American migrants is a delicate topic in Mexico, which has long protested human rights abuses against its own citizens by U.S. authorities.

Precise figures are difficult to come by. The Mexican human rights commission said it has logged 1,600 cases this year alone of alleged improper detention of migrants by police, as well as threats, robberies and other abuses.

But activists say the Central Americans rarely report crimes because they would rather keep moving than stop and deal with Mexican authorities.

Mexican federal officials detained 92,000 Central Americans last year, the largest number of whom were from Honduras, according to the government’s immigration agency. Most of those arrests took place in the southern states of Tabasco, Oaxaca and Veracruz and in the state of Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas.

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