As Congress continues to shape an immigration reform bill that could provide a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented residents, we look at the overlooked plight of migrants from Central and South America who travel through Mexico en route to the United States. Many of them are fleeing violence and poverty in their countries only to face robberies, beatings and kidnappings by smugglers who hold them for ransom. Human rights groups estimate at least 20,000 Central and South Americans were kidnapped in Mexico last year — that is more than 50 a day. Many do not survive and hundreds have been found in mass graves throughout the country. We’re joined by two guests: Father Alejandro Solalinde, a Mexican Catholic priest who runs a shelter for migrants in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca and is now on a "Caravan of Hope" across the United States to draw attention to the plight of Central American migrants; and Marco Castillo, an organizer with Migrant Families Popular Assembly and the Acción Migrante campaign, which is calling for human rights to be the focus of migration policy changes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As Congress continues to shape an immigration reform bill that could provide a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented residents, we look now at the plight of those who rarely come up in this discussion: migrants from Central and South America who travel through Mexico en route to the United States. Many of them are fleeing violence and poverty in their countries only to face robberies, beatings and kidnappings by smugglers who hold them for ransom. Human rights groups estimate at least 20,000 Central and South Americans were kidnapped in Mexico just last year. That’s more than 50 people a day. Many do not survive, and hundreds have been found in mass graves throughout the country.
This is a clip from a short film directed by Marc Silver and the Mexican film star Gael García Bernal for Amnesty International. It’s narrated by García Bernal. It’s called The Invisibles. It begins with the voice of a migrant injured in a fall from a train, which many migrants ride in order to travel north.
INJURED MIGRANT: [translated] Who’s speaking? Juanita? I’m not well, my child. I’ve been in a hospital for three days. But don’t tell mum. I’m here in Mexico. The problem is that they were about to attack me on the train, and they pushed me off. And now I am here in the hospital. Thank God I survived, because I was left alone on the train tracks. They’re going to amputate two of my fingers, and I have a fractured wrist. But, thanks to God, that’s all.
OLGA SÁNCHEZ MARTÍNEZ: [translated] He said, "Kill me! Let me bleed to death!" In the hospital, they gave him a bucket to put his legs in while the blood drained from his body. "No! You’ll bleed to death." I picked him up, and he said, "Leave me to bleed! Leave me to die!" "No," I said. "You have a mother. You have children. I don’t know who else you have, but you must fight for them." They need my tears. They need my care. I tell them not to worry. I tell them they’re not alone anymore. I admire these people so much. What courage! What strength of will they have to survive despite such terrible injuries.
GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL: [translated] Olga Sánchez Martínez set up the "Alberque de Jesús, el Buen Pastor," where she provides shelter for migrants, the elderly and poor, no matter what their nationality or social status. Without people like Olga or Father Alejandro Solalinde, and the volunteers working with them, these migrants would have no chance of protection at all.
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] "They’re going to kidnap you. What’ll you do?" And one of them says to me, "We’re going with God’s help. God is with us." "Yes, but even with God’s help, they’ll kidnap you. What are you going to do?" One of them answered, "We’ll carry on anyway." Migrants are not a threat; they’re an opportunity. They come with strong values and many wonderful things. I think this world will soon tire of materialism and consumerism. It will tire of power and money. Poor people are the spiritual reserve of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: That last voice you heard was Father Alejandro Solalinde from the short film called The Invisibles, directed by Marc Silver and Gael García Bernal.
Well, Father Alejandro Solalinde joins us in our New York studio before heading home to Mexico today. He’s a Catholic priest on a "Caravan of Hope" across the United States to draw attention to the plight of Central American migrants traveling here through Mexico, who are often deported into dangerous conditions. Founder and director of the Brothers in the Road, Hermanos en el Camino, a shelter for migrants in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and received the 2012 National Human Rights Award from Mexico’s President Enrique Nieto for his work.
We’re also joined by Marco Castillo, organizer with Migrant Families Popular Assembly.
Father Solalinde, I thank you so much for being with us. Why have you come to this country? Why the Caravan of Hope?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] We think that the immigration matter is a regional matter, so Central America, Mexico, the United States and Canada. And we believe that immigration reform is a vision of North America, and so we are here in the Caravan for Hope because we believe it should be the whole region.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue of what happens to Central Americans specifically in Mexico, how big of an issue is that in Mexico? It’s never discussed here in the United States.
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] And the situation is a bit different in Mexico and Central America, and it is that people are looking for work and people are poor, just like they are here, and they’re looking for better conditions so that they can live in a dignified way.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what is the government in Mexico doing to attempt to prevent these kinds of assaults and attacks and kidnappings?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] And for the government of Mexico, migration issues are not a priority, nor is it human rights issues internally in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask you about San Fernando, the mass graves there? Tell us where it is. What are these graves?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] So, unfortunately, San Fernando is a place where we have not found the guilties. It’s a place where there’s no justice. And there are other San Fernandos, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is San Fernando? Who is buried there?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: And everywhere.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask Marco Castillo—you’ve been organizing here. What is the impact of potential immigration reform going to be, in terms of the—of here in the United States on especially the Central Americans who are coming across Mexico?
MARCO CASTILLO: Well, we welcome any effort that will—any government will offer around migration. Unfortunately, we see this as an opportunity—governments are seeing this and, more than anything, the Congress is seeing this as an opportunity to bring the issue of national security. And what we’re bringing to—what we’re trying to say with this caravan is that we don’t need any more national security perspective. What we need is to bring the human rights and the human being back to the center of human mobility in the region.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the significance of this Caravan of Hope for the organizing you’re doing around immigration? And tell us your own story.
MARCO CASTILLO: Of course. Well, this caravan, it’s a great opportunity to bring unity between Mexico and the U.S. We want to see ourselves as one population that are suffering the consequences of a national security perspective that has affected all of our—all of our dignity and human rights. My personal story, me, as thousands of others, are a migrant myself that—who has traveled to this country, in my case, specifically, to bring the word and to bring organizing efforts for both countries.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Father Solalinde, there have been numerous threats against your own life. What kind of personal danger have you had to confront in advocating for migrants in Mexico?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] So, mainly, delinquent organized crime and, in that, also public officials and police officials are part of that. And in that, as well, is the crime of the cartels in the region. And inside of that, there’s two things that are really important: the people, 10,000 people who have been disappeared, and kidnappings.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how are most of these kidnappings resolved? Do the families back in Central America end up paying moneys to the kidnappers to free their relatives?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] So, most of the people that pass here are poor people, and the criminals ask the families in the United States to pay money, and so then the people get lended that money. And once they come to the U.S., they now have to pay that money over a time period of a year or so while they work.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about the guns that come into Mexico from the United States?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] So, we have been here for about 30 days—24 days of the 30 days of the caravan. And my experience is that people need to speak up their own experience. And that’s what Marco spoke about, people speaking up about their own experience.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the change of government in Mexico. The new president in Mexico has tried to not have as much emphasis on the war on drugs as his predecessor did. How is the new government, do you see, the policies it’s implementing, hoping to change this current situation with the migrants?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] So, the government believes that in the six months that they’ve been present they can change the world. And, in fact, they can’t just change colors, they can’t change it magically, that they have to go through a process.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what would be that—what would be the main things they’d have to do to change that process?
FATHER ALEJANDRO SOLALINDE: [translated] First off, respecting human rights. Second, listening to civil society and the organizations there, and putting someone at the head of the commission for immigration that in fact knows about human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. We’re going to continue the conversation and post part two online. We’ll also be posting online a conversation we had recently at Harvard University between Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars, and the renowned linguist Noam Chomsky. That’s at democracynow.org. Father Alejandro Solalinde, we thank you so much for being with us, as well as Marco Castillo.