Mark Stevenson and Sonia Perez D., Associated Press, April 24, 2019
The train known as “The Beast” is once again rumbling through the night loaded with people headed toward the U.S. border after a raid on a migrant caravan threatened to end the practice of massive highway marches through Mexico.
A long freight train loaded with about 300 to 400 migrants pulled out of the southern city of Ixtepec on Tuesday. They sat atop rattling boxcars and clung precariously to ladders alongside the clanking couplings.
Most were young men, along with a few dozen woman and children. Mothers clambered up the railings clutching their infants. Migrants displayed a Honduran flag from atop the train.
But about a week ago, a longtime migrant rights activist, the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, noticed a change: Large numbers of migrants started getting off the train in Ixtepec, the Oaxaca town where his Brothers on the Road shelter is located.
Many had waited weeks for Mexican visas that never materialized, and simply decided to head north without papers. Others were part of a 3,000-person migrant caravan that was broken up in a raid Monday by federal police and immigration agents on a highway east of Ixtepec.
With dozens of police and immigration checkpoints dotting the highways, many migrants now view the train as a safer, albeit still risky, way to reach the U.S. border.
“They’re riding the train again, that’s a fact,” said Solalinde, who shelter now houses about 300 train-riding migrants. “It’s going to go back to the way it was, the (Mexican) government doesn’t want them to be seen. If the migrants move quietly like a stream of little ants, they’ll allow them to, but they are not going to allow them to move through Mexico publicly or massively” as they did with the large caravans that began in October.
In fact, Solalinde predicts “they’re not going to allow caravans anymore.”
In Monday’s raid, federal police and agents detained 371 people, wrestling men, women and children into patrol trucks and vans and hauling them off, presumably to begin deportation proceedings. Many other migrants abandoned the road and fled into the surrounding countryside.
Truckers, warned by the government that they could face fines, no longer give rides to the migrants as they did last year. Migrants are pulled off buses, and rounded up off the sides of highways when they stop to rest.
Mexican authorities are “holding them back at specific points to turn the south of the country into a retaining wall,” Camargo said.
And while migrants have resorted to caravans seeking safety in numbers, he said that following Monday’s raid many migrants will surely change their strategies: “They will immediately have to switch from visibility to invisibility, and that can make them more vulnerable and more at risk.”