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Migrants Taking Riskier Routes To Avoid Mexican Authorities


Mexico's increasing migration enforcement on its southern border after striking a deal with U.S. authorities to avoid tariffs threatened by President Trump. James Fredrick reports from Tapachula, just north of the Mexico-Guatemala border, this means many migrants are risking more dangerous journeys to evade authorities.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Checkpoints like this one dot the highways going north, with immigration agents, federal police and the army standing guard. Every bus and van that comes through is searched. While it's been relatively easy to get into Mexico, it's getting much harder to reach the U.S.

Agents approach one van, and two teenage boys jump out and run. Migration chases them down.


FREDRICK: The boys, 14- and 16-year-old brothers traveling alone, say they're Mexican but don't have ID. Soon enough, the agents decide these boys are from Central America. They grab them by their waistbands and lead them to an armored immigration van.


FREDRICK: "Remember," an agent says, "Migration is here to help you." But these boys look terrified and disappointed. One covers his mouth to hold in a sob. Most migrants, though, know highways are heavily patrolled by immigration agents and choose more isolated paths north, which can be perilous.


FREDRICK: Forty-five minutes north, in the town of Huixtla, I meet a group of seven migrants at the local Catholic church. They're exhausted from 10 hours of walking today, and they have nothing, says 21-year-old Mundito. He asked I call him by his family nickname since he's fleeing threats from a gang and is worried about Mexican authorities.

MUNDITO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says men with machetes snuck up on them and surrounded them. They took their backpacks and searched their pockets. One even had his shoes taken and walked the rest of the way barefoot. Still, Mundito and his companions say they'll walk again tomorrow.

MUNDITO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says, "if we stay in Honduras, we'll be killed, so we have to keep moving to survive." The church's pastor, Heyman Vazquez Medina, provides the only shelter for migrants within 50 miles.

HEYMAN VAZQUEZ MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says they arrive wet, tired and have usually been assaulted and robbed of the little they have. And this will continue to happen, given the policies being implemented here in Mexico.

These isolated routes can be deadly. So far in 2019, at least 53 migrants have died in southern Mexico, according to the U.N. Migration Agency. The next morning, I drove further up the highway. About 20 miles north of Huixtla, I spot a group walking a bit off the road. It's Mundito and his friends. They tell me I won't believe it.

MUNDITO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: Two days, and they were robbed twice. But this one was more frightening.

MUNDITO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says they rode a bus briefly and got out right before an immigration checkpoint to walk around it. It was 5 a.m., still dark out when a group of armed men with pistols pounced on them. They were thrown in a van and driven out into the jungle. They were stripped naked and searched. A new companion who wasn't with them the previous day had 3,000 pesos, about $160, on him. After the search was finished, the men drove off, leaving just the migrants' clothes. But they took the one migrant who had money with them. They didn't see him again.

And despite all this, Mundito says they'll keep walking. Going home to Honduras still feels worse.

MUNDITO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He says, "we'll see what the Lord tells us. The Lord will help us."

For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Tapachula, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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