PHOTO-ESSAY: Caravan of the Mutilated

Having lost limbs on the dangerous trip across Mexico, 13 Hondurans sought an audience with President Obama—but are instead facing deportation.

Joseph Sorrentino April 17, 2015

Benito Murillo (L), who lost his leg when he fell off the train in Tonala, Chiapas, rests at the shelter; José Luís Hernandaz Cruz (R), president of the caravan's parent organization, Asociación de Migrantes Retornados con Discapacidad (AMIREDIS), fell from the train when he fainted from hunger. (Joseph Sorrentino)

Thir­teen Hon­duran men who trav­elled across Mex­i­co as part of La Car­a­vana de los Muti­la­dos (the car­a­van of the muti­lat­ed), entered the Unit­ed States at the Eagle Pass Port of Entry on March 19. They were imme­di­ate­ly detained by Bor­der Patrol agents and tak­en to the South Texas Deten­tion Facil­i­ty in Pearsall, Texas, where they’ve been held since.

Each year about 400,000 Central American migrants ride through Mexico atop cargo trains, hoping to make it to the United States.

The men belong to the Asso­ciación de Migrantes Retor­na­dos con Dis­capaci­dad (AMIRE­DIS), an orga­ni­za­tion for migrants who lost limbs rid­ing the car­go trains col­lec­tive­ly known as La Bes­tia through Mex­i­co. Their goal was to reach the Unit­ed States and to speak with Pres­i­dent Oba­ma. We want to see Oba­ma so he can know the night­mare that immi­grants face,” says José Luís Her­nan­dez Cruz, the organization’s pres­i­dent. Ask him to help gen­er­ate jobs in Hon­duras so we can stop migrat­ing.” As unlike­ly as that meet­ing seemed at the begin­ning of their trip, it appears to be even less pos­si­ble now. Two of the men agreed to depor­ta­tion, and pres­sure is on to deport the rest. The White House declined to com­ment for this story.

About 400,000 Cen­tral Amer­i­can migrants enter Mex­i­co each year, many of them rid­ing La Bes­tia as they make their way to the Unit­ed States. Most are flee­ing from Guatemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador, coun­tries that are among the poor­est and most vio­lent in the world. Migrants report that gang vio­lence is ram­pant in larg­er cities in their coun­try, vio­lence usu­al­ly per­pe­trat­ed by the Maras, the most vicious gang in the Amer­i­c­as. Among oth­er things, they charge busi­ness­es a cuo­ta (fee) for doing busi­ness and force young men to join their gang. A refusal to do either will result in that per­son — and often fam­i­ly mem­bers — being killed.

The jour­ney through Mex­i­co on La Bes­tia is dan­ger­ous, as the men in the car­a­van learned too well. Migrants may be killed or seri­ous­ly injured when climb­ing the train; they may fall off while asleep; they’re robbed by gangs and kid­napped by drug car­tels; women are raped. No one knows how many are killed or injured each year. Despite the hor­rors of the trip, they ride the train because, as one advo­cate says, It’s the most eco­nom­ic way for them to travel.”

Cruz first tried to get to the Unit­ed States in 2004 but was caught in Mex­i­co and deport­ed. Unde­terred, he tried again the fol­low­ing year. For Cen­tral Amer­i­cans, the U.S. is like the promised land,” he says. On that sec­ond trip, he passed out on top of the train and when it shook, he fell off, los­ing his right arm, right leg and part of his left hand. Thanks to God, I fell close to a city and was found,” he says, adding. That end­ed all my dreams.”

Adán Esco­bar Cebal­los, anoth­er mem­ber of AMIRE­DIS, said about 25 peo­ple in the group meet reg­u­lar­ly in El Pro­gre­so, Hon­duras. They give one anoth­er sup­port and stage events to bring atten­tion to their sit­u­a­tion and to expose the dan­gers of trav­el­ing on La Bes­tia. This year, 17 men decid­ed to form a car­a­van and head to the Unit­ed States, leav­ing Hon­duras on Feb­ru­ary 26. They arrived in Mex­i­co City in ear­ly March and staged a small protest in the zoca­lo, the city’s main square. There, they held up signs describ­ing their plight and talked with peo­ple about their jour­ney to the Unit­ed States. At the time, it was uncer­tain what would hap­pen if they made it to the U.S. bor­der, but 13 of the men decid­ed to press on.

Nine of the men are being rep­re­sent­ed by attor­neys from the Refugee and Immi­grant Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion and Legal Ser­vices (RAICES) and are seek­ing refugee sta­tus, claim­ing they don’t believe the Hon­duran can pro­tect them should they be returned to that coun­ty. RAICES is con­cerned about the con­di­tions under which the men are being held. They are not being pro­vid­ed with pros­thet­ic socks or ban­dages,” says RAICES’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, Jonathan Ryan, who is serv­ing as their attor­ney. They have no clean­ing solu­tions to clean their pros­the­ses, they’re not pro­vid­ed with wheel­chairs … and they have all lost weight.” Accord­ing to Ryan, the group’s pres­i­dent, Cruz, was put in iso­la­tion upon arrival, sup­pos­ed­ly because he needs spe­cial med­ical treat­ment, although Ryan says the facil­i­ty would not spec­i­fy what that treat­ment was.

He’s not been able to make phone calls, and he’s not had con­tact with the oth­er men,” Ryan says. At one point, Cruz told Ryan, he was being trans­port­ed to a meet­ing and was shack­led. Because of his miss­ing limbs, it was dif­fi­cult to shack­le him, so, Cruz says, they put his one arm into a belt. It’s degrad­ing, inhu­mane and dan­ger­ous,” says Ryan. What if he fell?”

Cruz says he went on a five-day hunger strike to protest his iso­la­tion. Oth­ers in the car­a­van are now con­sid­er­ing a hunger strike. All of the men are suf­fer­ing. One of them has devel­oped a fun­gal infec­tion, and oth­ers are afraid of the same thing hap­pen­ing to them. With­out wheel­chairs, they are at greater risk when show­er­ing. Ryan has request­ed that the men be grant­ed parole because the facil­i­ty is unable to pro­vide prop­er med­ical care for them. The request was filed on March 30, and the men are still wait­ing a decision.

MEX­I­CO CITY—The men’s pros­the­ses stand in front of their dona­tions box in the Zóca­lo, Mex­i­co City’s main square.

The group strug­gles to nav­i­gate the stairs lead­ing down to the Metro.

José Alfre­do Orea Santo’s injury pre­vents him from har­vest­ing bananas, so he now earns a lit­tle mon­ey mak­ing piñatas.

Adán Esco­bar Cebal­los was deport­ed after liv­ing in the U.S. for nine years, then injured when he tried to return in 2004 in order to reunite with his 18-year-old son.

Luis Alon­so Col­im­bre, who lost his right leg to La Bes­tia, walks down a hall­way at a shel­ter for migrants in Mex­i­co City.

At the protest in the Zóca­lo, a sign reads, We do not want more migrants dis­ap­peared, kid­napped and mutilated’.

Wil­fre­do Fil­io Gar­ri, who can no longer dri­ve a taxi, begs for mon­ey on the street.

Pho­tos by Joseph Sor­renti­no. All rights reserved.

Joseph Sor­renti­no is a writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er. He has been doc­u­ment­ing the lives of agri­cul­tur­al work­ers on both sides of the U.S./Mexico bor­der for 12 years.
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