Risking it all
Across Mexico: Chasing an impossible dream
Latin American migrants risk life and limb to reach the US border in search of the American dream.
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2012 07:26

Every year more than a million men and women from countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua attempt to cross the river that forms a border between Guatemala and Mexico. Their immediate aim is to enter Mexico illegally, but they have another destination in mind - the US.

Once in Mexico, they must cross the entire Mexican coast in order to reach the border with Texas. It is a journey of about 4,000km and one that begins at the Arriaga train station. The freight trains are the only means of transport for these migrants. Thousands take them every day - each trying to find his or her own spot on the roofs or the axles between the coaches.

But it is a dangerous journey towards what some call "the impossible dream" and only 40 per cent of all those who attempt it make it to the US border.

With no way of knowing where the trains are heading, some make the mistake of climbing aboard trains heading in the wrong direction - towards the Guatemalan border. Others are caught by police who regularly stop the trains in the middle of the countryside and round up all those hitching a ride. But for some, the dangers prove far greater.

One Mexican shopkeeper explains: "I've seen lots of accidents ... people who fall off the train and die because the train runs them over. People who get their legs cut off too."

Rosana is from El Salvador. She had to have both of her legs amputated after she fell off one of the trains. "I fell off the train," she explains. "I was travelling sitting on the roof. I fell off when I tried to climb down before a migrant checkpoint. As I was getting down, I slipped."

Stories like Rosana's are told across Latin America and weigh heavily on the minds of those contemplating the journey.

Thirty-year-old Jaime is from El Salvador. He first crossed the US border illegally as a child with his parents. They settled in Los Angeles where they lived for 15 years. Jaime even got a Green Card. But when he became a gang member and fell foul of the law, he was deported back to El Salvador. There he met 19-year-old Lupita, who he says transformed him.
Together they are now attempting to reach the US, in the hope of finding a better life together.

"My objective is to reach Brownsville in Texas," Jaime says. "And once I get there, to work hard to give Lupita a better life."

But Jaime says the stories they heard in El Salvador about the dangers of the journey trouble Lupita.

"They traumatised Lupita before we left, because people talk so much about these tragic accidents that happen on the journey," he explains. "Lupita often feels really bad but we're going to make it. I've never stopped believing since we set out and I'll never stop believing."

Follow the people who take extraordinary risks to earn a living
Watch on Al Jazeera English at the following times:

Tuesday, March 13: 1730 DC, 0630 KL, 0130 Doha, 2230 GMT
Wednesday, March 14: 0430 DC, 1730 KL, 1230 Doha, 0930 GMT
Thursday, March 15: 2230 DC, 1130 KL, 0630 Doha, 0330 GMT
Friday, March 16: 1130 DC, 0030 KL, 1930 Doha, 1630 GMT
Saturday, March 17: 1730 DC, 0630 KL, 0130 Doha, 2230 GMT
Sunday, March 18: 0430 DC, 1730 KL, 1230 Doha, 0930 GMT
Monday, March 19: 2230 DC, 1130 KL, 0630 Doha, 0330 GMT
Tuesday, March 20: 1130 DC, 0030 KL, 1930 Doha, 1630 GMT
Al Jazeera
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
More than one-quarter of Gaza's population has been displaced, causing a humanitarian crisis.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
NSA whistleblower Snowden and journalist Greenwald accuse Wellington of mass spying on New Zealanders.
Whatever the referendum's outcome, energy created by the grassroots independence campaign has changed Scottish politics.
Traders and farmers struggle to cope as restrictions on travel prevent them from doing business and attending to crops.
Unique mobile messaging service, mMitra, helps poor pregnant women in Mumbai fight against maternal mortality.
Influential independence figure has been key in promoting Scottish nationalism, but will his efforts succeed?
join our mailing list