One Boy’s Journey Out of the Abyss: A Glimpse into the Trek of Undocumented Immigrants to the United States


Taylor Talcott, Staff Writer

13-year-old Alejandro Ramirez looks out upon the barren landscape crossed with the daunting tracks of La Bestia, the train that transports over half a million immigrants to the U.S. border from Guatemala every year. Alejandro is fearful to begin the perilous journey to the United States, but no matter the dangers ahead, nothing compares to the certain death he would face in his home in Guatemala. Confronted with the high crime rates and beckoning hands of the Zeta drug cartel that stole his 15-year-old brother, Gabriel, Alejandro was willing to bid a tearful goodbye to his mother and head to the U.S. in hopes of finding his relatives and beginning a new life. Alejandro is not alone, as millions of Central Americans try their hand at the journey, but few succeed navigation through the many trials.

Alejandro boards La Bestia, otherwise known as the Train of Death or Tren de la Muerte, amongst the 1,500 immigrants that board the train every day. The train carries cargo, not passengers, excluding those who perch precariously on the top. Many amongst Alejandro will not complete the journey across Mexico. The crime groups often control the train’s routes and board the train to threaten its stowaways with violent expulsion unless they pay hefty fees of several thousand dollars, a sizable chunk of an average family’s income ($10,116 per year). Crime is rampant aboard La Bestia, with 20,000 people a year being kidnapped, injured, abducted, or sexually assaulted. If they manage to circumvent the gang activity, the passengers face the likely prospect of falling off the train and losing their limbs or lives if they are inattentive during their multiple-week journey. Food and water are scarce on the trip, and passengers have to fight for mealiest portions.

Though dubbed “the Beast” and “the Train of Death,” the train across Mexico is known by many immigrants as “the Train of Hope.” Though the path to success is narrow, many flee their home countries for just the fighting chance of a life. Hope for new prospects and family members on the other side fuels the journeys of many. Alejandro is separated from everything he has ever known, but he finds a new home amongst the company of those fleeing for the same reasons, however short-lived. Many, like Alejandro, are fleeing crime and cartels as well as destructive governments. The main goal of many immigrants is to find a job and to live in relative safety and comfort with relatives who have also made the journey across the border. Though few achieve such goals, hope keeps the flow of immigrants consistent.

After many strenuous weeks atop La Bestia, Alejandro has seen many of his companions disappear without a word and watched several grisly deaths, but he has survived the long journey to the Mexican border intact. Alejandro has come quite far, but his journey is far from over. Over 400,000 immigrants are deported yearly by U.S. border patrol, not including those who die trying to cross the border themselves or are kidnapped and sold into trafficking. Alejandro is rather fortunate and has enough money to bribe a “coyote,” or smuggler, to carry him undetected across the border. Those who cannot pay such steep figures of 10,000 dollars or more usually try to cross the border themselves. The few who are successful face the ultimate challenge of crossing the desert with limited food and water. Thousands are found dead from dehydration and overexertion, and for every body uncovered, there are five more estimated to be hidden in the desert. Besides natural challenges, coyotes patrol the desert for stragglers, kidnap them, and sell them into human trafficking or use them as drug mules and smugglers if they are unable to pay for their passage. Alejandro has enough money for safe passage, but his well-being is not completely guaranteed. After paying the coyote, Alejandro is forced to reside in a “stash house” without food or water along others in similar situations. The risk of sexual assault and kidnapping run very high in the stash houses. Days later, Alejandro is smuggled across the border and forced into cramped and dangerous situations.

Alejandro overcame tremendous odds and made it into the United States undetected. He ventures out and finds his relatives, where he labors in the fields under the unforgiving elements for hours upon end. Alejandro works hard to provide for himself and sends money back home to his mother, who he hopes to bring across the border in another daring journey. Alejandro has had momentous luck in his passage, but he lives a life that is in no way glamorous. Living with poor wages for back-breaking work and experiencing harsh scrutiny and persecution as an undocumented immigrant, Alejandro is hardly in an ideal situation, but he has succeeded where many have failed. He escaped the horrors of his home and forged a new, hard-earned life in the U.S. Many may call him undeserving and exploitative, but Alejandro, when faced between a sliver of hope and almost certain death, chose survival.