Ch. 2 subsection headline

Ch. 2 subsection headline (February 25, 2014)

When Enrique's mother left, he was a child. Six months ago, the first time he set out to find her, he was still a callow kid. Now he is a veteran of what has become a perilous children's pilgrimage to the north.

Every year, experts say, an estimated 48,000 youngsters like Enrique from Central America and Mexico enter the United States illegally and without either of their parents. Many come looking for their mothers. They travel any way they can, and thousands ride the tops and sides of freight trains.

They leap on and off rolling train cars. They forage for food and water. Bandits prey on them. So do street gangsters deported from Los Angeles, who have made the train tops their new turf. None of the youngsters have proper papers. Many are caught by the Mexican police or by la migra, the Mexican immigration authorities, who take them south to Guatemala.

Most try again.

Like many others, Enrique has made several attempts.

The first: He set out from Honduras with a friend, Jose del Carmen Bustamante. They remember traveling 31 days and about 1,000 miles through Guatemala into the state of Veracruz in central Mexico, where la migra captured them on top of a train and sent them back to Guatemala on what migrants call el bus de lagrimas, the bus of tears. These buses make as many as eight runs a day, deporting more than 100,000 unhappy passengers every year.

The second: Enrique journeyed by himself. Five days and 150 miles into Mexico, he committed the mistake of falling asleep on top of a train with his shoes off. Police stopped the train near the town of Tonala to hunt for migrants, and Enrique had to jump off. Barefoot, he could not run far. He hid overnight in some grass, then was captured and put on the bus back to Guatemala.

The third: After two days, police surprised him while he was asleep in an empty house near Chahuites, 190 miles into Mexico. They robbed him, he says, and then turned him over to la migra, who put him, once more, on the bus to Guatemala.

The fourth: After a day and 12 miles, police caught him sleeping on top of a mausoleum in a graveyard near the depot in Tapachula, Mexico, known as the place where an immigrant woman had been raped and, two years before that, another was raped and stoned to death. La migra took Enrique back to Guatemala.

The fifth: La migra captured him as he walked along the tracks in Queretaro, north of Mexico City. Enrique was 838 miles and almost a week into his journey. He had been stung in the face by a swarm of bees. For the fifth time, immigration agents shipped him back to Guatemala.

The sixth: He nearly succeeded. It took him more than five days. He crossed 1,564 miles. He reached the Rio Grande and actually saw the United States. He was eating alone near some railroad tracks when migra agents grabbed him. They sent him to a detention center, called El Corralon, or the corral, in Mexico City. The next day they bused him for 14 hours, all the way back to Guatemala.

It was as if he had never left.

This is his seventh try, and it is on this attempt that he suffers the injuries that leave him in the hands of the kind people of Las Anonas.

Here is what Enrique recalls:

It is night. He is riding on a freight train. A stranger climbs up the side of his tanker car and asks for a cigarette.

Trees hide the moon, and Enrique does not see two men who are behind the stranger, or three more creeping up the other side of the car. Scores of migrants cling to the train, but no one is within shouting distance.

One of the men reaches a grate where Enrique is sitting. He grabs Enrique with both hands.

Someone seizes him from behind. They slam him face down.