Wendy is just 17 years old, but she walked three days alone along the same route where Edwin and his friends were robbed by masked paramilitaries. As an unaccompanied minor making the dangerous journey north, she joins the ranks of what the UN has termed “children on the run,” the more than 60,000 underage migrants coming to the US every year without an adult to guide them.
“My family doesn’t care what happens to me,” she said. “They’re just not interested.”
Like roughly 80 percent of the migrants passing through La 72, Wendy is from Honduras. She says the economic situation and increasing security concerns have made the country all but unlivable.
“The law in my country doesn’t work. The cops don’t help you, you have to pay them first. Every day there’s more crime committed by the police,” she told me. “Someone has to do something.”
Her main goal in leaving Honduras, what she hopes to accomplish in the US, is to get an education.
“I wanted to get ahead, I wanted to study…no one in Honduras will lend me a hand,” she said. “As a kid, I wanted to be a lawyer, to help people get their rights or something like that.”
Wendy also wants to study English, but she says classes in Honduras were too expensive. She had a job in a clothing store, but the pay was so low it barely covered the basic commodities necessary to survive.
“I want to go to Texas…well, it doesn’t really matter what state, the important thing is to find work and move forward,” she said. “Any kind of work. It could be in a restaurant, a shop, whatever.”
Wendy plans to enlist the help of a coyote, a guide who leads undocumented immigrants to their final destination. Unlike many other Latin American migrants, she says she won’t ride the “train of death“, a network of cargo trains that people jump onto while moving.
“The train, I won’t risk it,” she said. “Many Hondurans have died on the train. Not just one. Many.”
It’s impossible to know exactly how many are killed while riding the trains every year. They’re the frequent subject of attacks by drug gangs like Los Zetas, who often kidnap migrants for money, and the journey itself is extremely dangerous, with the possibility of falling off the train or being decapitated by electrical wires. Surveys show that 80 percent of migrants – whether or not they board the train – will be assaulted or robbed while crossing Mexico, and 60 percent of women will be raped.
The US bears a huge amount of responsibility for this situation. First, the US forced Mexico to clamp down on its “porous” southern border as a precondition for NAFTA, forcing migrants to find clandestine routes across a country they could previously cross more or less freely. The trade agreement led to the creation of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración, an agency analogous to the US Border Patrol and which did not exist prior to NAFTA.
More recently, US fingerprints can be seen in Plan Frontera Sur, an initiative by the current US-backed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Administrators at La 72 describe Plan Frontera Sur as an American attempt to “export human rights abuses” from the US-Mexico border to the Mexico-Guatemala border, thereby allowing the US to claim innocence of any crimes committed by immigration police. The increased militarization of Mexico’s southern border brought about by the plan was recently denounced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Wendy dreams of a world where she’ll be allowed to move freely, a right Americans take for granted.
“I want to live as if I wasn’t a criminal,” she said.
And someday, of course, she wants a house. She’s put a lot of thought into what it’ll look like, too.
“It’ll have four rooms: one for me, and another for the kids, because I don’t know how many I’ll have,” she said. “A garage, and first a car, then later a motorcycle. A porch. It’ll be a color – aqua? – between blue and green. A big house, a pretty one. A nice, large patio and a swimming pool.”
But like the other migrants I spoke to, Wendy knows it won’t be easy, and she’ll have to work hard to accomplish her goals.
“First, you’ve got to work, then save, and from there get a house and a car,” she said. “But you’ve got to work first.”
But Wendy believes in her own abilities to overcome her situation and make her dreams come true.
“They say that when one wants something, they achieve it,” she told me.
Wendy’s words sum up perfectly the unbreakable will of so many victims of forced migration, who must leave their countries to survive but who refuse to stop dreaming of a better life.