Leonardo remembers that when he saw José fall from the train he felt his face get hot.It was in seconds. They were riding on one of the wagons of ‘The Beast’”, a freight train that crosses Mexico sporadically and in which hundreds of migrants see a fast track to approach the US border.
The journey was undertaken by three. The brothers Leonardo and Alonso Patriz, 25 and 35 years old.And Lázaro Antonio Zalama, 34.Lázaro was left for dead on February 21, 2021 when he put his foot on one of the wagons of the so-called ‘Death Train’.
As if the machine knew that the young man wanted to go from one carriage to another, it jerked in a second, sending him to the rails.“It was a Sunday. At about 2 in the afternoon. We had just boarded the train at the Benjamin Hill station in the state of Sonora, Mexico. We were only one train away from the border”, Leonardo, from the United States, says.
A porous border
There is no official number of deaths of migrants on the route to the so-called ‘American dream’.The US Customs and Border Protection estimates 853 deaths in fiscal year 2022. A number not reached in the last 20 years and includes deaths in the Rio Grande, San Diego, El Paso and other places.
But what about the migrants who die in the Mexican desert? Or that like Lazarus they fall from ‘The Beast’ before even reaching the US border?In 2022, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated 468 migrant deaths en route to the United States. The data includes immigration records from Mexico and medical examiner reports.But getting a definitive figure is still “extremely difficult,” he says.
The routes of death
Lázaro made his last trip on ‘The Beast’. He had only a month and a half after leaving El Salvador where his two children remained, one of them with epilepsy.He wanted to get to New York, work in construction, where, Leonardo remembers, he told him they paid well. “A couple of years of work,” they thought…
And the scars that poverty left him could be erased. But the free route ended up leaving him lifeless.“We made the decision to board ‘The Beast’ because we did not have the money to pay for the trip to the border safely. The truth is that we took a risk… and we knew it”, added Leonardo.
In addition to the economy, for the executive director of Alianza Américas, ÓscarChacón, there has always been a relationship between border control policies and the deaths of people seeking to reach the United States.
“People are looking for less guarded routes, extremely inhospitable routes, as is the case in the Sonoran desert, where we will never really know the number of people who have died there,” Chacón said.
The walk through said desert or the trip in “The Beast” to Tamaulipas and Texas or to Sonora and Baja California have been some options for migrants before reaching the 3,145-kilometer border, where they must face other dangers such as passing the border wall.
“The main cause of death recorded on the migratory routes from Central America are accidents that occur mostly on freight trains, which are used as a means of transportation by migrants.Violence on the road – ranging from homicides to physical abuse and sexual violence – is the second most common cause of death in the area,” says the IOM.
Another edge is the disappearance of migrants. Due to the low presence of people along the routes or the vastness of the territories, it is not possible to find those who disappear along the way. And the remains cannot be recovered.Last year, 615 migrants went missing en route to the United States, according to the IOM.
“The lack of information campaigns by institutions linked to the migration issue to be able to guide about the dangers of migration should be a responsibility by the officials of the countries of transit.”But unfortunately it is an abandoned issue,” concluded immigration analyst Fernando Castro to VOA.
Taking Lázaro’s body back to El Salvador took time. After Leonardo and his brother reported the fact to the Mexican guard, the repatriation took a month. Not all make it back.