“You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey… he [the soldier] pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes. He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs. He said that if I did what he said he would let me go.”
Margarita (not her real name), a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant, describing how she was sexually abused by a soldier, Amnesty International interview, June 2009.
Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel without legal permission through Mexico to reach the United States. They flee poverty, war, environmental disasters and are enticed by a promise of freedom and a chance to join their families in the North. Some disappear on the journey without trace, kidnapped and killed, robbed and assaulted or sometimes falling or thrown off speeding trains. Some suffer arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials along the way. The litany of abuses and repeated attempts to reach the United States are testaments to the determination migrants have to build a better life.
At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) this past Saturday, March 19, 2011, Amnesty International USA heard from leaders in the movement about increased human rights abuses of migrants on both sides of the United States’ southern border. Father Solalinde, a human rights defender and director of a migrants’ shelter in Oaxaca, spoke of the “globalization of love” and the absolute right to dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. His soft spoken words did not lessen the blows of his words as he reminded us of the struggles that migrants face.
Human rights defenders, particularly local priests and lay workers, like Father Solalinde, run a network of shelters to provide necessary humanitarian aid to migrants. It is thanks to the efforts of Father Solalinde and others like him that some migrants can seek reprieve from exhaustion, exposure, and starvation on their journey. Defenders also play a crucial role in registering abuses by state agents and private groups and encourage migrants to seek justice. Because of this work, Father Solalinde and others are regularly subject to death threats and are sometimes attacked. The courage and conviction of these individuals demonstrate a profound commitment to the protection of the human rights of the most vulnerable.
Felipe Jacome’s photo essay, “Vertical Border: Migration and Human Rights,” displayed at AIUSA’s AGM on March 17-20, 2011, brought vivid images of the treacherous journey north. Felipe reminded us of the individuals who take the journey – young and old –full of hope for a chance of a better life, to reunite with family members, to leave the past behind… Felipe takes us on the journey – riding precariously on the tops of freight trains, fearing kidnappers or robbers along the way, fighting to survive despite hunger and exhaustion.
Through his words and photographs, Felipe brings you with him on a ride on a freight train he took in the summer of 2007:
“On the migrant route—and on the train specifically—you can never be sure who sleeps by your side, or when a military operation will take place, or if a band of maras will loot the train wielding machetes, or if the seasonal rains will cause the derailment of the wagons… I found myself in that hypnotic state that I had all too often seen amongst the migrants: I was like a deer caught in the headlights, bowed down to my present, gagging my fears with a blind determination, taking refuge in the hope of a better tomorrow.”
Leaving home should not mean leaving one’s human rights behind. People on the move have the same right to dignity and security as those who are lucky enough to have a home, and states have the obligation to protect them on their journey. Father Solalinde should not have to risk his life to fight for the dignity of migrants. States should recognize and offer protection to migrants regardless of race or immigration status. AI is actively engaged in campaigns to ensure that the U.S. and Mexico are preserving, protecting and promoting the rights of all in their countries – on the move or not.