Reporters on the Job

Walking the rails in Mexico: To report today's story on Latin America's illegal immigrants to Mexico, Staff writer Sara Miller Llana says she traveled to Ciudad Hidalgo with the agency that the Mexican government has charged with helping "orient" migrants (see story). That means listening to their human rights complaints or giving them food and water.

In 2005, Hurricane Stan washed out the railroad tracks that used to transport migrants directly from Mexico's southern border farther north toward the US. Those with a bit of money can pay to take buses to towns farther north, where they can get on the train. But the most vulnerable now walk along the washed-out tracks in order to avoid getting lost on their way to "El Norte." It was on those defunct tracks, Sara was told, where she could find illegal migrants.

"We walked along the same route, looking for migrants in mango groves, under certain trees, in cemeteries," she said. "It can take days to make the trip in sweltering heat."

Many of the migrants had stories of getting robbed, cheated, or beaten. Yet despite their obvious hardships, Sara was surprised to find a rather congenial transient community. "They were all sitting around telling jokes for hours," Sara said. "Maybe it's their way of dealing with their anxiety, or their loss, or even their expectations. But as one Nicaraguan put it, 'If we lose our sense of humor, we have nothing left.' "

– Matt Bradley
Asia Editor

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