Meet the migrants trying to make it to the United States

February 1, 2020

Newly arriving migrants in the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico — Many migrants — some determined to make it to the United States and others merely wishful of doing so — have run into a roadblock along their trek north. The barrier is not President Donald’s Trump’s wall, but rather an increasingly fortified border much farther to the south.

For many years, California’s border with Mexico has been at the center of immigration-related controversies in the United States. But, with the Trump Administration taking a tough stance on illegal immigration, and pressuring Mexico to do the same, a new flashpoint is emerging: the Mexican-Guatemalan border.

The Suchiate River, which forms a section of the border between Mexico and Guatemala

In response to a tariff threat issued by the Trump Administration, the Mexican government opted to crack down on Central American migrants transiting Mexico to the United States. This toughened stance became evident in January when Mexican troops broke up a migrant caravan from Central America as it attempted to cross Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

A CalCoastNews reporter arrived at the Mexican-Guatemalan border less than a week following the clashes. Numerous migrants remain in the area.

Most of the migrants who spoke with CalCoastNews say they are seeking a new life with better opportunity. Many recount personal hardships, such as poverty and deaths of close relatives. But unlike those on migrant trails in Europe, for instance, few, if any, speak of facing imminent death in their home countries, hence raising questions as to whether they would have legitimate asylum claims.

The situation on the Mexican-Guatemalan border

Despite Mexico largely succeeding in repelling the caravan — and, in the eyes of some, using unnecessary force to do so — migrant flows have not stopped.

Migrants, possibly from Haiti, preparing to cross the river

In late January,dozens of new migrants arrived in Tecun Uman, the town on the Guatemalan side of the border. Some of the newly arriving migrants said they decided to make the journey after hearing about the caravan that had just made its way up through Central America. Some others said they were part of the caravan or journeyed separately but arrived at about the same time.

A suspected smuggler led a group of several dozen migrants across the Suchiate River — which forms the border between Guatemala and Mexico. The smugglers threatened the reporter and his fixer over filming the migrants crossing the river border.

 

Unlike most migrants spotted in the area, the ones filmed crossing the river did not appear to be from Central America. All members of this group had dark skin. It also appeared they spoke creole, rather than Spanish.

When asked, one of the migrants said the group was from Haiti. Most other members of the group refused to answer any questions.

Elsewhere along the river and in Tecun Uman, all other migrants who spoke with CalCoastNews appeared to be from Central America. More migrants said they were from Honduras than any other country. El Salvador was the second most common country of origin among the individuals who spoke with CalCoastNews.

The United States is the preferred destination of most migrants stuck in the area. Some, however, are losing hope in the aftermath of Mexico’s recent crackdown on the migrant caravan. Some of the migrants say they are considering returning to their homes in Central America; others are pursuing residence and work opportunities in Mexico or Guatemala; and some remain determined to make it to the United States.

A few migrants who gave interviews to CalCoastNews said they have previously been deported from the United States.

Some migrants discussed problems with gangs, violence and mistreatment by police in their native countries. However, more migrants cited poverty and the need to find work and receive higher pay as reasons for pursuing a new life in the United States or elsewhere.

Pedro Paul Flores Melendez

It was also common for migrants to say they hope to make money in the United States in order to help their families back home.

Pedro Paul Flores Melendez, 50, a migrant from El Salvador, said it may not be safe for him to return to his home country because he is a former police officer. However, Flores Melendez also said he blew the big opportunity he was given to live in the United States and do construction work. He was previously deported because of alcohol and domestic violence offenses, Flores Melendez said.

Salvadorian woman named Areli showing emotion over the death of her mother

A man from Honduras, who said his name is Hilario, said his cousins killed his brother and tried to kill him. The man also said he does not make enough money in Honduras and would like to move to the United States, and particularly, to Seattle.

A 21-year-old woman from El Salvador, who said her name is Areli, wants to live and work permanently in the in the United States. Areli said she is struggling to cope with the death of her mother, and she would like to bring her family to the United States, when she has the financial means to do so.

The Central American migrants encountered in and around the border tended to range from about 20 to 50 years old. There were some teenagers, as well. Males significantly outnumbered females.

Fixer David Mazat, a native of Guatemala, said it was clear the majority of the migrants had low levels of education and few, if any, spoke English proficiently.

“Most of the migrants showed a low level of education,” Mazat said. “The English level seen among the migrants was drastically low, even for people who have spent some time before in the United States. They manage to understand, but they are not able to hold an intellectual conversation.”

Among the group of migrants spotted crossing the river, there was a greater mix of males and females. The group also contained some young children and at least one pregnant woman.

Currently, the situation along the river is quite calm, though there are migrants waiting for an opportunity to cross; smugglers operating in the area; and Mexican National Guard troops positioned on the shore.

A Mexican immigration official flanked by National Guard troops carrying out a check of people who just crossed the river

One man on the Guatemalan side offered to transport a CalCoastNews reporter across the river for approximately $13. He said he would coordinate with someone on the Mexican side in order to cross at a time and place where they would not be spotted.

In addition to National Guard troops, there are also Mexican immigration officials carrying out checks on some of the many people who cross the river daily. Throughout the day, many people transport goods from one side to the other, and locals effectively have a free pass to go back and forth between the Mexican and Guatemalan sides.

Mexican National Guard and federal police trucks parked in the center of Ciudad Hidalgo

On the Mexican side, there is also a large National Guard and federal police presence in the border town of Ciudad Hidalgo. Mexico has carried out numerous deportations in the aftermath of the arrival of the recent caravan.

Yet, there is a possibility the situation will escalate again soon. Several migrants said, and some media reports indicate that another caravan — this one dubbed the “Devil’s Caravan” — is now on its way from Honduras and El Salvador to the Guatemalan-Mexican border.

It is unclear whether a new caravan will indeed make its way to the Mexican-Guatemalan border. But if it does, fresh clashes are expected to occur at what is an emerging hotspot in a migrant crisis that spans North and Central America.

More migrants

A man from Honduras who identified himself as Hilario. He said his cousins killed his brother and tried to kill him, and he would like to move to the United States for economic reasons, as well.

A man from Honduras who said he spent more than a decade in Miami prior to being deported from the United States.

 


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retiredpoliceofficer

I don’t understand why Cal Coast is reporting on a national issue. I thought they were a local news organization focusing on our area?.


In the 1980’s I spent a year traveling in the affected countries by car. The people were wonderful and made me feel very welcome..


Unfortunately, the U.S. can not accommodate the world’s population. What we can do is to help those countries with the problems that make their homes undesirable.


Jorge Estrada

They come here because we have free stuff. We go to their countries to purchase property, visit vacation resorts or just explore, spending lots of US currency, that which is the currency used in El Salvador and Panama (what’s up with that?). Finish the wall and let them manage their own country, recreating the likes of another British Empire is contrary to the United States franchise.


Francesca Bolognini

They mostly do not do not qualify for “free stuff”, yet somehow manage, usually by very hard labor, doing jobs that most American citizens have not applied for. Perhaps you missed the statistic I offered, which is that they contribute 63 BILLION dollars more to our economy over a 10 year period than it cost to support them. They normally do not want to leave their native country to come here and bust their asses at difficult jobs, but make the trip because of the changes (for the worse) that have taken place in their native country due to corporate interference. Such as duly and legally elected leaders being assassinated by our CIA and replaced by dictators who brutalize the population and allow the spread of violent crime. This has happened all over South America. In countries like Mexico, heavily armed drug cartels, funded by the massive amount of addicts in America, run rough shod over rural populations, leaving rape,death and destruction in their path. Just what would you do? I say we man up and begin to take some responsibility for our very negative influence on these people’s lives. It is indeed a complex problem. But blaming the victims is not going to solve it.


Francesca Bolognini

Just gotta make a couple of points here, which I fully expect to be roundly criticized, but still, for the sake of balance and reality, need to be said:


As for all of you who boast the “legal” way their families came to this country, good for you. Just attempt to educate yourself to the previous ease of that process. There was a time, for instance, when a willingness to kill Indigenous People for their land was a sufficient qualification.


It is not the workers who are driving the wages down. IT IS THE GREEDY EMPLOYERS. Their salaries have risen by over 300% and in some cases, much more, while lower tier employees have actually fallen. They are the ones who are paying less for work. If we had the kind of solid minimum wage laws and trade unions and trade agreements that were in place when I was young, we would have the same solid middle class we had then as well. Simple logic. Voting to deregulate these things got you where you are now. But don’t let that stop you.


Also, although many of you will attack me for mentioning this, a recent study showed that over a 10 year period, immigrants added $63 BILLION dollars more to our economy than they cost to support.


You are definitely getting screwed, no doubt about it. But it is not the poor who are doing it. If they were, they wouldn’t be poor. But don’t let that logic get in the way of a good scapegoat..


Go ahead and attack me for saying this. In a culture where we glorify people for self centered, sociopathic behavior, never blinking at tax breaks for those who already have more money that God and admire them for it, it is to be expected. Make the nastiest, most ridiculous comments you can think of, it is very trendy in some circles. Because that will certainly be easier than taking some responsibility for your problems.


hazel eyes

What I just don’t understand is, my family paid their dues and waited in line to come to this country but so many people thinks it’s ok for all the others to just cut in line and come over AND they think we should provide housing, medical ect for them. I’m sure the majority are awesome people but it’s just not fair. And if you think the majority are coming to state asylum your wrong. Only a small portion coming here actually are legit asylum seekers. I’m 100 % for immigration but they should all do it the correct way.


IDBOUND

People from all over the world enter USA illegally via Mexico and I have met some of them from England , India , Pakistan , Russia etc the list goes on and on . Most All of these People shunned going to school or following general ways of living or moving within their home country to improve their situations .The USA is seen as the land of freebies .Entering USA illegally is illegal .I have read articles that state as much as 30k Asians arrive in USA territories each day most from Hawaii claiming and producing documentation to uphold their claims. Hawaii very very relaxed on illegal immigrants


JThomas

I know what the illagal aliens want. Here’s what I want: The government should give me a $1,000,000 a month, A new home every five years, new car every three years, free medical (just like the illegal aliens get), oh I almost forgot I want a free gardener to take care of my new home and of course a house cleaner…… Last but least….. the government should give all the other CITIZENS OF THE U.S. THE SAME!


jbt

Excellent article. The honest reporting CCN provides is refreshing and more than appreciated!


Boldguy

What is the answer to this very complicated issue?

Mass migration of illegal immigration has gutted wages for the lower middle class in this country and has been most damaging to our own minority workers:(

Of course we have a soft spot for those wanting a better life for themselves and their family’s, but nobody seems to care about the collateral damage to our own poor and disadvantaged:(

I don’t have the answer, not sure anyone does.

Do we as a nation hold the countries accountable for how they treat their own populations, sanctions etc until they fix their own problems, even give them a little help when we see a path of improvement through positive policies, or ignore them and try and stop the migrants at borders?

Something I learned during a trip to Europe recently, when migrants show up without money, work or language skills, they will do whatever it takes to survive. if that means robbing, mugging or stealing, that’s what they will do, the problem is even worse there, but a lesson that needs to be considered:(


UnReasoned

There is also a question of international responsibility. The interference of the US into the internal affairs of Central America and Caribbean nations during the Reagan administration has lead directly to the instability and poverty driving these people from their homes.

Assassinations, covert military aggression, and cultivation of drug markets (Iran-Contra scandal) were all inflicted upon these formerly developing nations. The instability then contributes to them defaulting on their IMF and World Bank loans which loses them the right to self determine their economies.

All this was happening while I was a child and I had no way to influence these events. Still, I know how lucky I was to be born on this side of that imaginary line. I can’t help but have a softer stance in immigration knowing the US had a hand in creating this problem.

They are not “aliens” and they aren’t “illegals.” They are just people. Don’t let the rich, powerful interests in this country blind you to the reality. We’re all just trying to feed our families.


panflash

“A general summary of U.S. immigration terminology follows. Any references below to USCIS refer to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.


Alien


An individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national.”


https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/immigration-terms-and-definitions-involving-aliens


“illegal (adjective)


Definition of illegal


(Entry 1 of 2)

: not according to or authorized by law : unlawful, illicit also : not sanctioned by official rules (as of a game)”


https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/illegal


So, UnReasoned, they ARE “aliens” and they ARE “illegal.”


“We’re all just trying to feed our families.” Really? Well, that’s just fine- I’m feeding my family here in my country, and they can feed their families there in their country. But what many of them are actually trying to do is bring their families here for US to feed THEM. And, if they really are genuine in their intent to become Americans, they can verify that by obeying our laws of entry in the first place and then carrying out the process to become legal citizens.


And your feeble attempt to blame the whole migration issue on the Reagan administration foreign policy 30 years ago is utterly laughable. That used to work with some people- it just doesn’t anymore.


UnReasoned

Ok, “legal,” I’ll be sure to refer to you as a “non-alien resident” from here on out since we are sticking to strict terminology. “Person” and “human” weren’t good enough.


nunsense

While I understand the desire to come here, there are millions of citizens who are poor and want a better life. They work jobs with almost zero wage growth due at least in some measure to the ever expanding pool of unskilled labor due to these “migrants”.