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Fear, God And Family Pervade Migrants' Journey

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.

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.

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.

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.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: The number of migrants from Central America and Mexico who try to cross illegally into the U.S. has dropped dramatically over the last few years. One reason is the economic downturn in the United State, another is increased security on the southern border. But migration also is being suppressed because the trip has become incredibly dangerous. Mexican drug cartels are increasingly involved in the smuggling, kidnapping and extortion of migrants.

NPR's Jason Beaubien recently traveled along much of the migrant trail in Mexico. He sent us this reporter's notebook about the journey.

JASON BEAUBIEN: When you start thinking about crossing Mexico without using a plane or a bus or a car, Mexico's vastness becomes striking. The shortest route from the Guatemalan border to Brownsville, Texas is just over a thousand miles. If you're headed to California and plan to cross at Tijuana, it's more than 2,000 miles. 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 last year 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 any other option except to emigrate.

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

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.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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