Only a small percentage of migrants who brave the trains actually make it to the United States. Marauding gangs, and even corrupt cops, are known to extort, beat, rob, and rape migrants on board the trains. Others are kidnapped and held for ransom, or enlisted to work with the drug cartels.
“None of that worried me, though,” Solaris said. “Considering where I came from, the train seemed like paradise.”
Solaris made it to Tochan, a small migrant shelter in a working class Mexico City neighborhood whose name means “Our Home” in the Mexican indigenous language Nàhuatl. Today, Central American migrants fill Tochan. Most say they didn’t want to leave their countries, but after suffering from gang extortion and the death threats that came when they couldn’t make the payments, they had no choice.
Although many of the newcomers who arrive at Tochan’s doors were originally bound for the United States, they eventually apply for asylum in Mexico. The lucky ones succeed in getting temporary resident papers that allow them to work. However, even those with strong cases are usually denied and must eke out a living in the informal economy as undocumented workers in Mexico.