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Fear, God And Family Pervade Migrants' Journey02:44

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Migrants ride on top of a northern bound train toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, in March. Migrants crossing Mexico to get to the U.S. have increasingly become targets of criminal gangs who kidnap them to obtain ransom money. (AP)closemore
Migrants ride on top of a northern bound train toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, in March. Migrants crossing Mexico to get to the U.S. have increasingly become targets of criminal gangs who kidnap them to obtain ransom money. (AP)

The number of migrants from Central America and Mexico who are trying to cross illegally into the United States has dropped dramatically over the last few years, in part because the trip has become incredibly dangerous. NPR's Jason Beaubien recently traveled along much of the migrant trail in Mexico. He sent this reporter's notebook.

When you start thinking about crossing Mexico without using a plane or a bus or car, Mexico's vastness becomes striking. The shortest route from the Guatemalan border to Brownsville, Texas, is slightly more than 1,000 miles. If you're headed to California and plan to cross at Tijuana, it's more than 2,000 miles.

Migrants relax in a shelter in Tenosique, the starting point for many Central American migrants who will travel through Mexico on top of freight trains. (David Rochkind for NPR)
Migrants relax in a shelter in Tenosique, the starting point for many Central American migrants who will travel through Mexico on top of freight trains. (David Rochkind for NPR)

And now the trek is more perilous than ever.

"I wouldn't recommend this trip to anyone," one Honduran told me as he waited for a bus in southern Mexico. "You don't know who will rob you — who is good, who is bad."

He was kidnapped in 2010 in the midst of this same journey, beaten and forced to pay $3,000 for his freedom.

"But unfortunately in our country," he adds, "we aren't left with any other option except to emigrate."

In 2010 alone, 20,000 migrants were kidnapped and hundreds more were killed or disappeared, according to Mexico's Human Rights Commission.

The trip for these migrants has become increasingly dangerous over the past several years as Mexico's drug war has raged, and kidnappings and killings of migrants have increased. Ana Ruiz, a mother of three from El Salvador, says she's making the journey to try to improve the lives of her children. (David Rochkind for NPR)
The trip for these migrants has become increasingly dangerous over the past several years as Mexico's drug war has raged, and kidnappings and killings of migrants have increased. Ana Ruiz, a mother of three from El Salvador, says she's making the journey to try to improve the lives of her children. (David Rochkind for NPR)

Talking to dozens of migrants on the route, three strong themes emerged: fear, God and family.

The fear of getting kidnapped hangs over the migrants the entire trip. They're also terrified of Mexican authorities who may demand bribes, or hand them over to kidnappers, or deport them home.

God keeps coming up as the only force that's protecting them. In Mexico, most migrants are in the country illegally. They have nowhere and no one they can turn to for help, they say, except for God.

In between their fear and their faith, many people say this trip is about family. Migrants alone on the road told me that they're doing this for their kids, for a better future. Many left their children back home in El Salvador, Honduras or rural southern Mexico.

"I think of my sons almost constantly," one man told me.

Migrants sleep with their heads on the tracks so they can feel an approaching train and make sure they don't miss it. (David Rochkind for NPR)
Migrants sleep with their heads on the tracks so they can feel an approaching train and make sure they don't miss it. (David Rochkind for NPR)

The migrants know they're putting their lives at risk to try to get to the United States, and they're willing to take that gamble.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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