El Tren de la Muerte

Central American migrants risk life and limb on the death trains to Texas

They reach a road the next day and are finally picked up by a truck. Elias is loaded into a large metal toolbox in the back and told the drive will take a few hours. Eleven hours later, nearly frozen, he finds himself in Houston, where his cousins pick him up. They bring him home to Dallas, where he stays with them in Farmers Branch and attends church at Templo Cristo Rey. Through people he meets at church, he finds a drywall installation job that pays $8 an hour and begins working six 10-hour days a week.

When I meet him for the first time in May, he has been in Dallas for six months. "I love it here," he says, with a smile full of wonder. "It's clean, orderly. Our countries are chaotic." I mention that some Americans worry that immigrants are overcrowding the United States and making it more like Latin America. He nods. "I understand this isn't my country. I know I'm not a citizen, and I'm not asking to be one. I just want permission to work." He is dismayed to find out that his only chance at residency is marrying an American or getting sponsored by his boss. "The guy I work for is illegal too—how am I going to ask him for help?" he says, laughing. "We'll both get thrown out!" It's strange, he thinks, how so much is determined by where you're born. By luck.

He's grateful when he goes to bed at night, and he's grateful when he wakes at 7 a.m. for work. To him, there is something satisfying about hanging drywall—the precision of the corners, the spacing of the screws and nails. As he seals the seams with mud, using a taping knife to smooth the wet joint compound, he thinks about his journey, about the life behind him. He wonders what happened to Pedro. After Elias arrived in Dallas, his friend contacted him to say he'd been deported somewhere near the border. He recently made a third try on the trains, but the last Elias heard from him was weeks ago, when he called from San Luis Potosi. Elias has met migrants who have tried six, eight, 10 times to get through, and though he realizes how fortunate he is to have made it on the first attempt, he worries. About his girlfriend, Maribel, and whether she'll wait for him. About saving for a car and how he'll register it without legal residency. About when the boss will give him a raise and how he'll manage to save $40,000 to repay his debts and return to Honduras. As much as he likes it here, the steady pay, the way traffic lights work and cops are generally decent and women can walk down the street without drawing catcalls at every step, he yearns for home.

These migrants have some 1,500 miles to travel.
Jennifer Szymaszek
These migrants have some 1,500 miles to travel.

"I'm not going to be here forever," he tells me. "Maybe four years, with the grace of God." Then he pauses, knowing that this is what most people say when they get here, as unprepared for the realities of life in America as they were for the journey here. "Then again, my cousin said he'd only be here for two years, and he's already been here for eight," he says. "I guess you never know."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help

Why don't we send the CIA to blow up the tracks??? If MExico won't take steps to secure the border, then we sure as hell do!