By Mark Stevenson, AP
MEXICO CITY–About a dozen Honduran migrants who lost legs and arms after falling from trains during northbound journeys across Mexico asked the country’s Senate on Tuesday to stop the government’s persecution of Central Americans, protect them from criminal gangs and contribute money to shelters for their care.
The migrants say that drug gang members and other criminals frequently beat, stab or push them from moving trains during their journeys through Mexico to the United States.
The migrants wore prosthetic limbs — in some cases, for both legs — and pinned-up shirt sleeves in place of missing arms. They expressed hope that Mexico would agree to allow them transit visas or free passage without documents to cross the country on their way to the U.S. border.
Jose Luis Hernandez, the leader of the Association of Disabled Returning Migrants, said the group hopes to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to discuss their demands. Hernandez said there are 452 mutilated migrants from Honduras alone, and more from other Central American countries.
“We have hit bottom,” Hernandez said. “It is no longer even news when two people die on ‘The Beast,’ or that somebody fell under the train and lost his legs,” Hernandez said, referring to the train that travels through southern Mexico that migrants call “La Bestia.”
Criminal gangs often board the trains to rob migrants, many of whom have relatives in the United States. They are sometimes kidnapped and held until their families send ransom payments.
The migrants are often afraid to report such crimes for fear they will be deported, and some accuse police in Mexico of turning detained migrants over to the gangs, or robbing them themselves.
Hernandez said migrants believe that railway employees work with criminal gangs by slowing down to allow them to board the trains. “There is a plot that involves the engineers and the railway guards, it’s all about extorting money from the migrants,” he said.
A criminal complaint filed last week by prosecutors in the southern Mexico state of Veracruz alleges that railway companies or their employees have been complicit in crimes committed against migrants riding their trains. Ferrosur, a Mexican rail line, and KCSM, a subsidiary of the U.S. railway Kansas City Southern, noted that migrants board their trains illegally, and said they were doing everything to cooperate with authorities.
“The guidelines of KCSM state that security personnel must respect the physical safety of those who travel illegally on the trains,” the company said in a statement.
Ferrosur said it “provided full cooperation” with Mexican immigration agents.
But Hernandez said immigration agents shouldn’t be pursuing migrants who don’t want to stay in Mexico and only wish to reach the United States.
In 2008, Mexico removed rarely enforced criminal penalties of 1.5-10 years in prison for migrants in the country illegally. Being an undocumented migrant is now a minor offense punishable by fines. But then, and now, most migrants have simply been deported.
Rather than deportation, Hernandez’s group is calling on Mexico to provide transit visas to guarantee safe passage of central American migrants through the country, something that Mexican Congresswoman Amalia Garcia said “is possible,” with some legal changes.
Hernandez also said migrants want federal police officers aboard the trains — not to catch migrants, but to protect them from criminals.
He also expressed hope that Mexico’s government would help support migrant shelters, most of them run by Roman Catholic relief and charity organizations. Such shelters could have made the difference for Hernandez, who lost an arm, a leg and part of his other hand when he fainted and fell on the tracks in the northern state of Chihuahua in 2005 after 20 days of riding the train, not eating and hiding from police.