Hondurans Who Risked Life and Limb in Search of a Better Life are Having Second Thoughts

Date Publish: 
06/22/09
Region-Country: 
Honduras / America

"The problem starts when they get on that damned train," cringes
Rosa Nelly Santos of the Committee of Family Members of Migrants in
El Progreso (Comité de Familias de Migrantes en El Progreso
or COFAMIPRO).

José Luis Hernandez nods his head in agreement, and with
resignation says, "A person doesn't react until it happens to
them.  If someone were to warn me today that I could lose one
finger, just one finger, I would not leave."

Much has been written about El Tren de la Muerte or the train of
death, as the migrants call the trains that make their way north to
Mexico's northern border.  Feature films, documentaries,
novels and essays recount the horrors suffered by thousands of
persons who have died or lost limbs on its tracks. 

Four years after his accident, 23-year-old José Luis sits
at home reproaching that fateful decision that led him to leave his
country in search of work and a brighter future in the United
States.

He recalls falling off a cargo train in Chihuahua, Mexico and
waking up in hospital minus a leg, an arm and four fingers of his
other hand.

"It is sad because my goal was to help my family to improve our
home, to buy a car, to live better," José Luis
explains.  "I left with this dream, but instead of helping my
family I have returned as a burden to them.  I can cry and cry
over what I have lost, but no matter how much I cry, I cannot grow
a new arm or a new hand, therefore I must carry on. I pray to God
for His help and the strength to go on."

He emphasizes that just in his small hometown of El Progreso, in
northern Honduras, there are 26 young men and two women who were
also mutilated after jumping on and off trains during the long and
dangerous migration route north to the US-Mexico border.

Rosa Nelly Santos and Edita Maldonado are the two-woman team
called COFAMIPRO.  They make their way each morning to their
tiny office in the center of town and open their door and mobile
phones to hundreds of desperate family members who have not heard
from their loved ones in days, weeks, months, and sometimes
years.

COFAMIPRO has 550 cases of persons who were reported missing by
family members. Although some have been closed with a happy ending,
344 persons are still missing and feared dead.

The two women are on the phone constantly with their contacts in
Guatemala, Mexico and the US, trying to track down missing Honduran
migrants.  They host a one-hour radio show each Sunday for
family members to call in and send messages to their missing loved
ones.

Rosa Nelly says, "Most migrants stop in Mexico for a time on
their way to the US and take on odd jobs to raise money for the
rest of the trip.  Some women are lucky enough to find jobs in
bars and restaurants; others are kidnapped and sold to
brothels.  Many of our migrants are in Mexico caught in that
insidious spider web."

But hundreds of thousands of Honduran migrants have reached
their final destination.  Unofficial estimates indicate there
could be up to one million Hondurans currently in the United
States.  The US Census Bureau, 2007 American Community Survey
reports 430,504 Hondurans living in the United States; this number
includes all persons born in Honduras regardless of their
immigration status.

Is the economic downturn going to slow down COFAMIPRO's
work?

Rosa Nelly states confidently, "The crisis is not going to stop
Hondurans from going to the US  And do you know why? Because
the maquilas (assembly plants) are closing, which is the only thing
keeping our young from migrating north.  And many other
businesses, like supermarkets, are cutting their staff."

"'I'm out of here', that's the first thing out of their
mouths.  Most of the young women I speak to say they are
determined to leave, although they know their heads may roll or
they may be kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery,"  Rosa
Nelly adds.

José Luis is determined to put an end to the suffering of
Honduras' youth. "I want to go on television to tell the young
people of my country not to go.  It needs to stop, it cannot
go on this way.  Other people will end up in my condition and
end up with the same or worst life here."

"I never should have left," José Luis continues. 
"The things that one sees out there are frightening: women are
raped, people fall from the train and die. These things happen
every day but people do not realize, perhaps because the corpses
are not sent home, they are burnt.  But it affected me deeply
to see those horrible things," he ends with a deep sigh.

© IOM 2009