Archive for the Migrant Experience Category

Dangers on the Migrant Path

Posted in Migrant Experience with tags , , on May 10, 2019 by dsmith41

Emma Lightizer

Although many people have fled their countries to seek refuge in the United States in recent years, the decision to do so is a serious one that must take into account the dangers of migration itself. It’s important to know what kinds of risks migrants face on their way to the U.S. because it grants a crucial perspective on the severity of what they are fleeing from. Those who choose to leave feel safer taking the risks of migration than continuing to live in their home countries. What are the risks these migrants take–or in other words, what exactly is escape worth to them?

            Whether a migrant travels alone or with help from a professional “coyote” who specializes in smuggling migrants over the border, there are opportunities for abuse at nearly every stage of the undocumented migration process, in addition to the natural, physical dangers inherent in the journey (Shetty). Notable among the dangers are human trafficking, extortion, robbery, kidnap, murder, threats by federal governments or local police officers, and death by exposure in the desert (Shetty). Women and children are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, although the trip is a dangerous one no matter the identity of the migrant (Shetty).

            In strictly financial terms, migration is expensive. A reputable coyote will demand at least $7,000 USD per person for a trip to the United States starting from El Salvador; depending on the country of origin, this number may shift a bit (Martínez 248). This sum includes the coyote’s pay as well as bribe money for police, immigration officials, and the gangs and drug-trafficking organizations that control territory along the route (Martínez 249). Failure to pay any of those people the amount they demand can result in kidnap, physical assault, rape, human trafficking, or murder. Sometimes, police work with local criminal organizations; if migrants won’t pay bribe money, then police hand them over to human traffickers or gangs in exchange for a cut of the pay. In some cases, police “officers themselves [are] VIP clients” of sex trafficking rings, and will therefore return migrants who escape back to their abusers (Martínez 219). Since local authorities in many rural areas along the route are so easily corrupted, there is very rarely legal recourse for migrants who are abused by police or by criminal organizations.

A migrant who tries to make the trip without the help of a good coyote runs the risk of not knowing how much money they will need to pay off criminal organizations and cops, and it’s possible that they will run out of money before they are able to get all the way through Central America and Mexico. These people are especially likely to become victims of criminal organizations. People who try to use the help of a particularly cheap coyote are often also at risk: usually, cheap prices will mean that the coyote has either not taken into account the money demanded by criminal organizations on the way or that they do not plan on bringing the migrant to their destination (Martínez 250). In some cases, cheap “coyotes” will even bring migrants to criminal organizations and sell them rather than actually helping them (Martínez 252).

Even beyond all the abuses migrants face at the hands of other people, migration carries other risks that are inherent to the environment of the route itself. Most profoundly, the desert provides a host of dangers for the migrant. Because of extreme temperatures–hot in the day and cold at night–it is common for migrants to die from exposure while trying to cross the desert (Androff and Tavassoli 168). This is especially common for migrants who go alone or are separated from their coyote and get lost in the desert. Attempts by humanitarian groups in the U.S. to leave water in shelter areas for migrants who are crossing the desert have been met with hostility by governments in the region, and those who have left water have been criminally prosecuted for littering (Androff and Tavassoli 168). These prosecutions and related policies stem from generalized xenophobia and the refusal to see migrants as humans.


Androff, David, and Kyoko Tavassoli. “Deaths in the Desert: The Human Rights Crisis on the U.S.–Mexico Border.” Social Work 57, no. 2 (April 1, 2012): 168.

Martínez, Óscar Enrique. A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America. London: Verso, 2017.

Shetty, Salil. “Most Dangerous Journey: What Central American Migrants Face When They Try to Cross the Border.” Amnesty International USA. February 20, 2014. Accessed May 10, 2019.

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