ARRIAGA, MEXICO - AUGUST 04:  Central American migrants stand atop a freight train  headed north early on August 4, 2013 in Arriaga, Mexico. Thousands of immigrants ride atop the trains, known as "la bestia," or the beast, during their long and perilous journey through Mexico to the U.S. border. Many of the immigrants are robbed or assaulted by gangs who control the train tops, while others fall asleep and tumble down, losing limbs or perishing under the wheels of the trains. Only a fraction of the immigrants who start the journey will arrive safely on their first attempt to illegally enter the United States.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

I Woke Up and My Arm and Leg Were Missing: Victims of the Beast Speak Out

For immigrants riding the world's most dangerous train, the last stop is freedom—but getting there could kill you

MEXICO CITY—Honduran José Luis Hernández has little to smile about. His mutilated body, which is missing an arm, a leg and three fingers on his remaining hand, offers him few promises of a brighter future. He is a victim of the “Beast,” a massive freight train that every week carries thousands of Central Americans seeking their way to the United States, where they plan to settle illegally.

José Luis Hernández

(Voctiv/Jan-Albert Hootsen)

The Beast is both their greatest hope and their greatest enemy: It’s their best bet at escaping the poverty and crime of their home countries, but dozens of migrants are killed or maimed each week in accidents on the tracks, while bandits and corrupt law enforcement officials lurk along the way.

Mexico has traditionally lambasted the United States for its stringent immigration policies, accusing its northern neighbor of criminalizing Mexicans looking for work without the proper paperwork by tightening border security. Successive Mexican governments have also condemned perceived abuses by the U.S. Border Patrol.

But Mexico has its own grave domestic issues with migration, especially when it comes to the hundreds of thousands of Central Americans crossing the country to reach the U.S. “The journey through Mexico is the most dangerous in the world,” Hernández says. “Thousands of people are killed, maimed and kidnapped each year. And the Mexican government does next to nothing to solve it.”

Hernández’s group is asking the Mexican government to grant temporary travel permits to those Central Americans looking to journey to the United States, as well as police protection along the way. They say they are forced to take huge risks during their trip, and are vulnerable to hunger, accidents, corrupt policemen and criminal gangs. Staying in their own country is no option, the group claims; criminal violence and poverty force them to look for opportunities elsewhere, driving them into the jaws of the Beast. A temporary travel permit could make the trip much safer, they say. They would no longer have to hide from immigration officials, which would also make it easier to find alternative means of transport to travel through Mexico.

Central American immigrants on the Beast.

(John Moore/Getty Images)

So far, the group’s efforts have been in vain. The last two weeks, Hernández and 14 of his companions, all Hondurans missing limbs, were in Mexico City to seek an audience with president Enrique Peña Nieto, the first group of migrants to do so. Nieto wouldn’t meet with them. But they garnered massive media attention in Mexico, and are backed by human rights organizations, several leftist politicians and church groups.

“According to the Mexican constitution, the state is obligated to protect basic human rights of anyone, regardless of their legal status,” says Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and the principal defender of migrant rights in Mexico. “These men aren’t asking for something they’re not entitled to; they simply want Mexico to respect its own laws.”

Each year, about 300,000 Central Americans travel through Mexico to the U.S. An estimated 120,000 of them disappeared between 2006 and 2013. Gangsters kidnap them in large numbers for ransom, and many Central American women passing through Mexico are raped, according to human rights advocates, who say that policemen and immigration officials are often in cahoots with the gangs. The Beast runs about two or three times per week, starting in Chiapas state, winding through the south and then moving north to Chihuahua state. It’s a freight train, so apart from the drivers and the migrants like Hernandez, it has no other passengers.

A group of wounded migrants.

(Voctiv/Jan-Albert Hootsen)

Fear of the bandits and corrupt officials forces the migrants to hop onto the roof of the Beast, but many of them suffer fatigue and hunger during their trip, and some faint or fall asleep while the train is moving. When it suddenly stops, they slip and fall.

It happened to Hernández in 2005 in the northern state of Chihuahua. “I had been traveling for 20 days. I remember I was sitting on top of the train and took my shoes off, when I suddenly fainted,” he says. “When I woke up, I was lying on the tracks. The train had cut off my right arm and right leg and part of my left hand.” The Red Cross saved him, and doctors told him it was a miracle he was even alive. “It was the end of my dreams.”

Wilfredo Filiu Garay, one of Hernández’s companions, was kidnapped with his teenage son in Veracruz state, in 2010. For three weeks, he says, gangsters repeatedly slashed him with a knife and hit his fingers with a metal pipe. He has little use of his hands now, which have been permanently crippled. “Every day, people were tortured and killed. I could hear their screams, sometimes they were killed right in front of us,” says the 47-year-old. He and his son were released after his family paid a $3,000 ransom. He returned to Honduras but soon after tried to reach the U.S. again. After only a few days, he fell off the Beast and his leg was cut off.

Wilfredo Filiu Garay

(Voctiv/Jan-Albert Hootsen)

Despite the dangers, Central American migrants still take the trip through Mexican each year. Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world (79 murders per 100,000 people), while 60% of its 8.5 million people live in poverty. “We can’t change the misery of our country, but we can ask Mexico to make our journey safer,” Hernández says.

“My arm and leg will never grow back,” he says, “but we can prevent more people from falling from the train, being kidnapped, extorted, raped and killed. We can make a difference.”

 

Respond Now
  • If anyone paid me enough$$$ I would renounce my US Citizenship and leave the US!

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Where can I send you the money?  If you spent day one out of the U.S. you would not be stated so stupid of comments.

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • Am A naturalize US citizen from trinidad, but I realize that most US citizens dont know what they have here and other people are willing to die to get here for it, So if anyone wants to renunce their US citizenship, I say go ahead, more for me , but am staying here , am a proud US citizen.

  • Come to America for welfare and health insurance!

  • the same reason europeans escaped to America and killed the Native American Indians!remember history or no we don’t admit to our mistakes in the unitied states!

  • Add more of these trains please. Hopefully we can get the numbers higher.

  • He’ll get free medical care and a new prosthetic leg courtesy of us taxpayers.

  • The Mexican government is outraged that we police our borders.  What the Hell gives the Mexicans the right to demand that the United  be Mexico’s safety valve for their problems,the problems caused by their own corrupt, bribe-ridden government?

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Amen

  • Show More
  • Serves them right for trying to sneak into a country illegally. I couldn’t believe they said “Thousands of people are killed, maimed and kidnapped each year. And the Mexican government does next to nothing to solve it.”, stop trying to enter countries illegally! They bring it on themselves by riding a known dangerous train. I say again, serves them right!

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • Amen

    • what the native american indians should have felt when the europeans invaded north anerica

  • Though the things that are happening are sometimes horrifying, it is just morally wrong to ask or be activists to try and get paid police or armed escorts to allow them enter or enter and cross countries illegally. They are breaking the law. You would think that with the millions upon millions of illegal immigrants that come from these countries, have and millions and millions still coming that if they had joined together and put that much effort into overthrowing their corrupt govts, countries, etc after all these years….. they grossly outnumber the bad guys. You can’t expect the United States to accommodate ten other countries populations… or more. These countries just need an upheaval to change the things grossly wrong.  The U.S. is well on its way to soon having half of the country living in poverty. 

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Amen we already have enough illegals killemall lol

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • Kill ‘em all lol?  Not funny on any level.  You might call yourself A Good American but you are a Despicable Human Being.  

  • A lot people may not understand what hispanic people go threw when they come here illegal. The come here to give their family a better future and they would do anything to make it happened by risking there life. I give propes to those people who come here to work in the farm picking vegetables & fruits something that U.S citizen won’t do they want immigrants to go back to there country when everybody knows the U.S citizen won’t do those type of hard work they rather ask the government for money,food stamps or dusability instead o getting a job

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • No, americans born in the USA do not ask for hand outs.  They are hard working people trying to get ahead. Sadly it is the illegals on food stamps and welfare, and its the americans paying for that!

      3 Replies - Reply Now
      • Amen

      • You’re kidding right?  Please tell me that you are using absurdity to illustrate absurdity and I just didn’t catch the joke. Did you say that Americans born in the US don’t ask for handouts?  I would love to visit the rock you live under.

      • +
      • America was founded by immigrants who felt their pale skin gave them the right to persecute and kill anyone who wasn’t white! our politicians are criminals and racism is still rampant in the u.s. but guess there is no excuse for ignorance!

    • mexicans come to america, have anchor babies (like 7 per man and woman, not kidding), and don’t pay taxes as they work off the books but use all city and country services. they are terrible. they enter illegaly and then demand pity? are you f’in kidding me? glad to see this guy lost his limbs. serves him RIGHT. he was trying to break the law and karma bit him on the ***

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • Amen TRUTH

  • at least mexico is good for something.. keeping 1 in 3 from reaching here is good but try harder  i know you can stop more of them

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Lol hell yeah

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • Were you dropped on your head as a child?

  • I don’t have anything bad to say about this. Even if immigrants came over illegally, no one deserves to lose any parts of their body. I won’t judge because I don’t know what is going on for so many to risk their lives to come. Something really bad would make anyone risk their lives for anything. Don’t know if they did the paperwork and got turned down. Don’t know if money is required to file paperwork and they just did not have it. I do have concerns when we lose jobs for immigrants and the effects on our economy. Most of us are not native to this country and we all know the history that has taken place here, many were done wrong, many were killed, many were forced to come here and work. But I think it is extreme to say something mean things when we are not clear on all the facts. It raises my eyebrows to hear that people are willing to die to leave their own country.

    3 Replies - Reply Now
    • Wow  really you deibe drunk an accident happens you live with it dont be. Stupid dont break laws dont come here we have enough problems dont need any more welfare moms with 7 kids ad a husband that breaks all our laws while collecting welfare

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • ignorance in the united states is evident by the remarks some of us make!

    • Thank you Plaird for being another voice of reason. The lack of understanding some of these commenters display is unbelievable.  I too am greatly concerned about the illegal immigration issue but the advocating of violence and hatred I have read in these comments is disturbing to say the least. 

    • +
    • why your relatives probably came over in a boat! look how it turned out for you and your family proud americans now who could have died to leave their country! think about it really because unless you are native american indian your family was once immigrants too looking for a better life!

  • Good. Sorry about your tough luck. Next time, file the correct paperwork, and obey the law.You were injured while attempting to commit an illegal act – no sympathy from me! 

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • They come here to work tax free and have lots of welfare  babies and live on publc housing and never learn English

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • You seem to paint with a very broad brush.  I hope someday are are able to escape your little bubble of hate and prejudice. 

    • Thank you

  • Stringent immigration policies?  that’s a laugh!                             Stay home and stay healty

  • I agree completely! It is far too difficult and dangerous for people to illegally settle in the United States! And damn the American Border Patrol for doing their jobs and enforcing the law. Americans should stop construction the high speed railway to Sacramento and instead build one across the border. That way people could safely come to California to take advantage of free healthcare, welfare, and education.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Um What?  They want a travel permit to go safely through Mexico so they can come make it to the United States Border and enter illegally? Here’s a thought.  Stay in your own damn country!

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