Mexico has a serious immigration problem.
Each year, half a million illegal immigrants, most of them under age, from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, cross the border Mexico shares with Guatemala. They enter Chiapas state, home of El Chapo, the most dangerous, most lawless state in Mexico, to board freight cars on the long 1,500-mile journey up the central spine of Mexico toward the Rio Grande and attempted river crossings into the United States. The immigrants call the train El Tren de la Muerte—The Train of Death. Riding the train, the migrants endure beatings, rapes, theft, robbery, and kidnapping. Some lose limbs under the train wheels. Others are killed.
This non-fiction novel follows one seventeen-year-old boy, Enrique, who is on his way to try to reunite with his mother, Lourdes, who made the same trip successfully ten years earlier and now lives in North Carolina. The author, Sonia Navario, made portions of the trip herself to learn the stories of the men and women, boys and girls, who ride the trains to escape poverty and violence and to search for a better life.
Seven times, Enrique is caught by the migras, the Mexican federal migrant police, bussed back to the Guatemalan border with other train riders, and deported. (Today, the Obama administration gives Mexico millions of dollars of aid to support Mexico’s capture and deportation efforts, which send over 100,000 illegal migrants back to their homes annually). But on his eighth try, Enrique arrives in Nuevo Laredo, where he stays in a camp along the river and finds a “coyote,” a border escort, to take him across in return for payment of $1,200. Eventually, Enrique makes it across and pays for transportation to North Carolina for a bittersweet reunion with his mother and sporadic work.
Sonia Navario won two Pulitzer Prizes for a series of articles for the Los Angeles Times which she later expanded into this book. Enrique’s Journey is more personal narrative than political or sociological study, but perhaps for this reason, the book offers a useful beginning perspective tp anyone interested in understanding unlawful entry across the southern border of the United States. If you care to know more than demagogic politicians know about this issue, or more than they will publicly acknowledge, start with Enrique’s Journey.