Dealing With Mexican Robbers Plus Coyotes Make Migrant Life Dangerous.

Photo: Library of Congress. A mural in a Mexican border town.
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The never-ceasing flow of would-be immigrants across  the United States long southern border with Mexico has become a key issue for debate  in the US presidential election due to a common perception among voters that the United States is already overcrowded and overtaxed.

But what is hardly ever discussed is the role of criminal gangs in Mexico exploiting and robbing already-poor migrants and making a journey across Mexico that is already difficult and dangerous even more perilous and expensive for the migrants.

With its strip clubs, taco stands and ubiquitous motorbikes, San Luis Rio Colorado, a small city due west of San Diego is typical of the  Mexican border communities adjacent to California.

In a migrant shelter, a stone’s throw from the towering, rust-red fence that separates the town from the US state of Arizona, Eduardo rests on a shady patio.

On one wall, there’s a large wooden cross. And it’s here that Eduardo began to process – and recover from – his terrifying ordeal in Mexico.

Eduardo, who is in his 50s, used to run a fast-food restaurant in Ecuador. But organised crime has tightened its grip in his former, mostly peaceful, South American home.

“As business people we were extorted,” he says. Eduardo was threatened with death if he didn’t pay a ‘tax’ to the gang. “What could we do? To save our lives we had to leave.”

Eduardo never wanted to migrate, but he was frightened and decided to head to the US to ask for asylum.

His story is typical of thousands of people from many parts of the world fleeing violence and seeking a new life in the US.

After a record number of arrivals at the end of 2023, Democratic President Joe Biden proposed stricter immigration measures which include shutting the border when it’s overwhelmed. His opponent Republican Donald Trump says he will introduce mass deportations if elected in November.

What has stayed mostly under the radar in the debate about mass migration to the US is the role of Mexico’s deadly drug trafficking organisations.

Eduardo began his journey by flying from the Ecuadorean capital Quito to Mexico City. Then he boarded a bus north to Sonoyta on the US border, a journey of more than 30 hours.

The passengers were a mix of migrants and Mexicans. But what Eduardo didn’t appreciate was that his trip would take him across terrain controlled by some of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels and their associates – malevolent forces that dominate the business of migration.

The first time the bus was stopped, it was early morning, around 6am. Ten armed men wearing balaclavas got on board.

The bus was driven off-road towards the mountains. The men asked to see everyone’s papers. Once they established who the migrants were, they asked each of them for 1500 pesos (US$90) or they would be detained.

The migrants pooled their cash but were short by 200 pesos (US$12). The men let them off and 11 hours after being stopped, the bus was allowed to go on its way.

San Luis Rio Colorado, the border town where Eduardo recuperated at the migrant shelter, has also gained a reputation for the kidnap of migrants.

In May last year, neighbours of a modern, two-storey house on the edge of town reported unusual comings and goings. When the Mexican authorities swooped, five people were arrested and more than 100 migrants freed. Some of them had been held in the house for three weeks.

“They didn’t have food and water, and they were maltreated physically and psychologically,” says Teresa Flores Munoz, a local police officer involved in the operation.

These extortionists and hostage-takers are not only professional criminals – some are also law enforcement. As Eduardo’s bus continued north through the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora, he says they were stopped at six police checkpoints where officers demanded money from the migrants.

“If you didn’t have cash they called you over. They said, ‘take off your trousers, take off your clothes’, and you have to give them everything, like your suitcase. If you didn’t have money they took your papers – that’s how I lost some documents.”

Source: BBC
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