La Bestia: Central America’s “Death Train”

Photo Credit: LEOHM1

Photo Credit: LEOHM1

Immigration has always been a topical issue in the US with President Barack Obama regularly facing criticism over his inability to crack down on illegal migrants. The biggest threat of course comes from the nearly 2,000 mile long border the US shares with Mexico and whilst immigration from Mexico to the US is at an all-time low many are still taking the dangerous voyage north from Central American countries. Some have identified the trip undertaken by many of the migrants as a humanitarian issue with many of the migrants facing the prospect of robbery, rape or even death.

The trip in question takes place on the train known in the area as “La Bestia” or the Beast. It is known to cause the deaths or injuries of many migrants who climb aboard it as they fall from the train which is only meant to carry freight. More people fall victim to the gangs that patrol the track into Mexico as they are robbed or kidnapped by the gangs.

The most common group of people to travel on “La Bestia” are small children often fleeing countries like Honduras where prospects are poor and gang violence is high. Children are trafficked through a vast network of smugglers until they reach the train and hopefully the US. Children are perceived to be a lot easier to get into the US and lot harder to send back. Officials in the affected countries are paid to look the other way or just ignore what’s going on. It’s thought that around 44,000 children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were stopped at the US border between October 2013 and June 2014.

So what is being stopped to prevent the so called “death train”? Well the governments of Guatemala, Mexico and the US have recently agreed to put more check points in place to stop people climbing onto the freight train. Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong noted that the continual loss of life caused by the train could not be allowed to continue. The exact details of these checkpoints have yet to be released but one wonders if it will be sufficient.

The US have also been keen to work with Mexican officials to try and stem the flow of illegal immigrants at Mexico’s southern border. A difficult task but one that Mexico says it’s committed to. However not everyone’s convinced that this will do anything to stop the migrants: some commentators have remarked that making it more difficult may just make the smugglers richer.

This all comes at a testing time for President Obama as the Republicans have managed to pass a new deal through the House of Representatives to pay for more border security at a cost of $694 million, a move which the President along with many other Democrats has condemned calling it an extreme reaction to the issues involved. The move however has yet to pass through the senate and doubts are also raised here as to its potential.

The “death train” is far from terminating and officials in the US and Central America far from finding a fool proof solution to the dangers on the railway track and to the issue of illegal immigration overall.

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