Miriam Harder has recently begun an MCC service assignment working in conservation agriculture in Chiapas, Mexico, and in Central America. In this blog, she recounts an encounter with the realities of immigration on Mexico’ southern border.
The sun was setting as I settled into my comfortable bus seat, complimentary Pepsi in hand, to watch a few movies before we got back to San Cristobal. It had already been a long trip from El Salvador and I was looking forward to getting back after 24 hours on the road. We were well into Father of the Bride when we stopped at a migration checkpoint.
The Mexican/Guatemalan boarder crossing had been a couple of hours earlier, but there continued to be periodic checkpoints. I didn’t pay much attention to the official who boarded the bus until he was ushering someone down the aisle.
“Are you travelling alone?” the official asked, foregoing the formal tense of the verb you use as a sign of respect with people you don’t know.
“Yes, alone,” replied the man in question. He was middle-aged, in a clean button-up shirt and baseball cap.
“Where are you going?”
My understanding is that these checkpoints are mainly to intercept drugs and Central American migrants. Or at least make their movement more difficult. Though I don’t know this man’s story, he was likely from a Central American country and the official was assuming that he was yet another ‘illegal’ migrant travelling in search of work, either in Mexico or in the US. Each year, an estimated 100,000 Central Americans migrants cross Mexico, and about 60,000 are detained and deported.
He was pulled off the bus to be thoroughly questioned. The bus rolled off without him.
Here I was, a Canadian, who entered Mexico on a 180-day tourist visa without issue. The official barely looked at me as he walked down the aisle. But he had taken one look at this man, who looked slightly more like a labourer than the rest of the Mexicans on the bus and pulled him off. If he couldn’t prove his ‘legitimate’ presence in Mexico, he would be deported. I wasn’t really into Father of the Bride after this point.
At an earlier immigration checkpoint I had seen a number of men in a barred holding room – presumably pulled off buses or picked up on their way through Mexico, waiting for further questioning or likely deportation.
Mexican and Central American migration has interested me long before I started with assignment. What drives people to undertake such risky and dangerous journeys, so far from their families, for work in another country? Why has it essentially been criminalized? Since arriving in Mexico this issue has become ever more present in my life, as I meet many people who have family that, or who themselves, have migrated. I read whatever books and material I can get my hands on.
My work with agriculture projects is closely connected to migration here in Chiapas. If I can be a small part of working with people to figure out how to make their marginal land more productive, so that they can support their families without leaving them, I don’t think I can ask for a more rewarding task over the next number of years.