La Bestia’s tragedy, one more graphic example of our broken immigration system

La Bestia derailed

La Bestia derailed (photo by Reuters)

On Sunday, August 25 the infamous train “La Bestia” (“The Beast”) crashed in the Mexican state of Tabasco. Early media reports indicate that at least 5 people died and 35 were injured, 16 gravely, with the death toll likely to rise. Emergency workers were attempting to reach the remote site, and soon after the accident President Enrique Peña Nieto expressed his condolences for those affected through his Twitter account.

While the accident is shocking and its human toll terrible, Sunday’s incident is just one in the long list of tragedies associated with this train, regularly used by undocumented Central American migrants as they attempt to make their way to the United States through Mexican territory. A recent film by Pedro Ultreras documents the terrible travel conditions and the many risks associated with a journey on “La Bestia” for passengers who literally risk life and limb in this dangerous venture.

A year earlier Carlos A. Barrera produced another documentary called “El Tren de la Muerte” about the same journey.

As the documentaries indicate, the hanging on to a poorly maintained train, night and day, unable to sleep because of the risk of falling off might be considered a minor inconvenience when compared to the dangers of running into corrupt government officials and ruthless paramilitary gangs who rob, rape, kidnap, murder and even enslave the vulnerable passengers. A disturbing pattern of organized kidnappings of undocumented migrants in Mexico has been amply documented by the Mexican National Commission of Human Rights in special reports published in 2009 and 2011. Most of these crimes are committed with total impunity.

Father Alejandro Solalinde, a vocal advocate of migrant rights has placed much of the blame of this Sunday’s tragedy on the Mexican government:

for its stubbornness, for its obsession to please the United States with its famous security, and for not granting permission for migrants to go and knock at their doors, and thus give the responsibility of whether to allow them in or not to the United States, then the fault and the responsibility for the deaths wouldn’t be the Mexican government’s.

In this spirit, Solalinde has been pushing since 2011 for special transit visas for Central Americans heading to the United States. These would allow migrants to move freely and legally within Mexican territory and avoid the risks associated with their clandestine journeys. This might be politically impractical at this point, but the fact is that Father Solalinde reminds us regularly that the tragedy of undocumented migration requires regional solutions and cannot be limited to discussions in the United States Congress alone.

In a recent interview titled “Migrants Undress the Neoliberal System” the Mexican priest insists that as long as neoliberal policies continue concentrating wealth in the north migration will continue, and that “the only viable solution is development plans in countries that drive out migrants,” otherwise undocumented migrants “will arrive to the United States, with or without laws, with or without immigration reform. They will do it at their own pace. God goes with them.”

Father Solalinde reminds us that migration will continue, even if the risks become higher. Sunday’s tragedy in Tabasco is just one graphic reminder of the human costs of a broken international migration system and the result of growing inequalities on a global scale. A regional comprehensive immigration reform that can effectively address these tragedies cannot be limited to increased “security” and criminalization of migrants, it must recognize that migrants are often victims and not perpetrators of crimes. A regional comprehensive solution must also address the causes that push millions to take on risky journeys, well aware of the dangers they might face as they attempt to reach a dream regularly encouraged by global communication networks.