Braving the Beast: Aboard ‘La Bestia,’ the Death Train Migrants Ride Through Mexico

There is no good way through Mexico for migrants. That includes the thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America who are driving the latest immigration crisis. Hundreds of miles of sweltering, gang-ridden terrain lie between them and the U.S. border they see as their last hope.

Many decide that their least-bad option is a train known as “The Beast” and “The Train of Death,” which says plenty about their desperate situation. This is no passenger train. It’s a lumbering and derailment-prone freight train with no space for human cargo. So migrants get a handhold wherever they can – on ladders, couplings, and the roof. They are still exposed to gang and other violence, not to mention the elements, and some pay for the ride with a limb.

Fusion’s Pedro Ultreras found The Beast in the wild and hitched a ride to see the toll it takes up close. He joined masses of people waiting to board the train in Oaxaca, including many young mothers with children. Their cries from the roof mixed with the rattle of the rails below. Everyone used cardboard and plastic bags to shield themselves from the weather and the train’s rusty metal exterior. Little could be done to fight their hunger, exhaustion, and anxiety.

It is possible that the journey may change, as the Mexican government has recently indicated that it might crack down on The Beast’s operators and migrants traveling as stowaways. But after years of conflicting and false signals of reform, any action is far from certain. In the meantime, migrants take their chances at the U.S. border many believe will be receptive to their plight.

“They told us that there are opportunities for women and minors, if they come with their mother or a guardian,” said migrant Esperanza Diaz. “Not alone. But God only knows.”

More than 1,000 people, including many mothers from Guatemala, finished a 14-hour ride on The Beast. They moved on to a web of nine more trains that they needed to take in order to reach the U.S. border. If one lesson is clear from traveling alongside the migrants of this crisis, it’s that the end of one treacherous journey only gives way to the next.