There’s a network of freight trains that runs the length of Mexico, from its southernmost border with Guatemala north to the United States. And despite the many deadly challenges it poses, more and more children — both with adults and alone — have been making this risky journey. That prompted President Obama this week to warn of “an urgent humanitarian situation.”
It’s estimated that up to half a million migrants now ride The Beast each year, sitting back-to-back along the spine of the train cars, trying not to get knocked off their roof-top perch. These aren’t passenger trains; there are no panoramic windows, seats, or even a roof to guard from sun or rain. People call the train La Bestia or The Beast. Some call it the Death Train.
“People are taking the journey because you do want a better future and you’re willing to do whatever takes,” Lis-Marie Alvarado an immigrant from Nicaragua says. “There are a lot of people who aren’t going to make it.”
Many Beast riders have suffered physical injury or death falling off the train or getting sucked into the wheels trying to board it in motion. In some areas, that’s the only way on.
One of the things that strikes you is just how many kids are riding the train. … Most estimates predict more than 60,000 minors will be detained at the U.S. border this year alone. Most of those making this 1,450-mile trek are not from Mexico. They come from Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, which has the world’s highest murder rate.
“A lot of the people are not fleeing because of economic hardship,” says Dannemiller. “A lot of them are fleeing because the increase in the drug violence and threats, extortion, and that’s a different phenomenon.”
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