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Braving La Bestia

November 28, 2023 (1 min read)

Jordan Vonderhaar, Texas Observer, Nov. 21, 2023

"Forty miles south of Ciudad Juárez, protected from the glaring desert sun by a blanket tied to a ladder, a mother nurses her nine-month-old son as the sun rises on their fifth day aboard the train known as la bestia—the beast. The mom has stuffed cotton balls in her ears for protection from the thunderous sound of the wheels along the track, but the baby won’t tolerate the cotton balls and may suffer permanent hearing damage. Around them cluster a father and four more children—a whole family on the run from poverty and societal dysfunction in Venezuela.  A few cars back, another family, this one from Colombia, steadies themselves atop bundles of rebar. Half-inch metal wires are twisted to bind the rods, forming a line of sharp spikes all around the family. Falling here could mean impalement. A 14-year-old, who’d dropped out of school back home to support his family, asks me what school is like in America. “Schools in America are all different,” I answer vaguely, my mind turning to recent news stories about the rise of child labor in the States.  These families know the risks of their journey: violence, extortion, dismemberment, death. But they feel they had no choice. Marian is a stark example of this risk: Last year she left her home in Honduras, unable to feed her five children and facing threats of violence. She journeyed for six months by foot and train, attempting to enter the United states to claim asylum, as is her right under U.S. and international law. She was beaten, extorted, and raped several times, she said, before finally making it to Eagle Pass—where she lost her right leg and most of her left foot trying to jump off la bestia.  As the U.S. government continues to make it more difficult to enter America, urging asylum-seekers to apply from their home countries instead, refugees like these will continue braving ever-deadlier routes. As one traveler put it to me: “If your house is on fire, you don’t wait inside the house for the fire department to come.” "