Some armless, others hobbling on spindly prosthetic legs, Honduran migrants came to Mexico City this week to protest their plight. Maimed in Mexico when they tried to catch a precarious train to reach the United States, they feel forgotten, ignored and with little reason to live.
On Sunday, they gathered under an enormous flagpole in the center of the downtown Zocalo, or central plaza, waving hand-scrawled signs asking for support. On Monday and Tuesday, they protested outside the Mexican Senate. They hope to continue to the northern border by the end of the week and take their message to the United States.
"Our visa [to enter the U.S.] is our mutilation, our handicap, our lost arms and legs," said Jose Luis Hernandez, 29, of Progreso, Honduras. He fell off the train, known here as La Bestia — the Beast — in the northern border state of Chihuahua; caught under its wheels, Hernandez's leg, left arm and part of his right hand were severed from his body.
Jose Nayin was 19 in 2010 when he was pulled under the train as he tried to hop aboard in the coastal state of Veracruz. He has not been able to hold a job since, after returning to the small Honduran farm where his parents and three siblings live.
"There is no work," he said. "I get too tired standing on one leg."
This is the second year the "mutilated migrants," as they call themselves, have tried to draw attention to their ordeal. Last year, a smaller version of the same group got as far as Mexico City but did not get the interview with President Enrique Peña Nieto that they sought.
Hernandez said an estimated 700 amputees or migrants with other injuries from the train live in Progreso alone. The Mexican government has estimated that around 300,000 Central Americans attempt to cross Mexico every year; recently, Hondurans fleeing poverty, violence and political chaos have constituted the largest subset.
Their argument is that if the Mexican government would offer free passage across Mexico, migrants would not be forced to ride the dangerous train. In addition to the peril of having to cling to the roof or sides of the lumbering freighter, armed gangs as well as police routinely attack the migrants, stealing money, raping women and sometimes even hurling travelers from the train.
Far from offering free passage, however, the government last year launched "Operation Southern Border" which aimed to prevent Central Americans from boarding the train or traveling north through Mexico. Tens of thousands of Central Americans were deported.
The National Migration Institute also said recently it was trying to cut down on abuse by its agents and had fired 2,000, more than a third of its entire staff, for corruption or other wrongdoing.
Despite the crackdown, Central Americans still try to enter and cross Mexico, often with tragic results.
Wilfredo Filiu, 47, had been on the Beast for three days, tired, dehydrated and without having eaten, he recalled, when he heard "screams." He assumed it was one of the gangs that terrorize the traveling migrants and so he leaped from the train.
He was pulled under the wheels, dragged and then thrown to one side. "It felt like a dog was biting me, but it was that I didn't have my leg," Filiu said. "I tried to run. I fainted."
He spent two months in a Mexican hospital before being sent home to Honduras. Like most of the group, he was fitted with a prosthetic leg by the Red Cross.
"Disabled like this, what work would anybody give us?"