Central American Women Migration,

Encarni Pindado

2011 - Ongoing

Mexico; Honduras; El Salvador; Guatemala

The Mexico-United States migratory corridor is the busiest in the world. In 2017, the United States authorities detained 415,191 people crossing the border irregularly, according to data from Customs and Border Protection. Many of them came from the Northern Triangle, including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Central American migration to the US has increased significantly, first spiking during civil conflicts in the 1980s and again in the 2000s. Corrupt authorities, lack of political interest, lack of job opportunities, and violence enacted by the Mara Salvatrucha or Barrio 18 gangs have destabilised the region, making it one of the most violent in the world.

Eight years ago, I came to Mexico to document the U.S.-Mexico border, with a focus on Central American women in transit. The U.S. considers migration a threat to national security. It has outsourced its border enforcement, forcing neighbouring countries to contain migration. I witnessed how the South Border Plan, enacted in 2014, has transformed Mexico’s southern border region, and made it all the more treacherous for people who were aiming to head north.

In 2006, Mexico began the so-called “War Against Drugs” which has resulted in over 234,996 homicides and 37,435 missing persons, according to the Registry National Data of Missing Persons. But this record leaves out cases of kidnappings and trafficking of migrants. It does not account for how migrants were forced into the hands of traffickers, corrupt authorities, and organised crime, becoming merchandise. Even those who escaped ended up traumatised by their weeks of travel.

In 2011, the Mexican National Comision for Human Rights conducted a study documenting more than 11,000 migrants kidnapped in a period of 6 months. It is estimated that there are between 70,000 and 120,0000 disappeared migrants since 2006.

The stories of migrant women in this context are much more extreme, since they face the same dangers as men on the migration route, but, in addition, their status as women puts them in a situation of greater vulnerability.

The structural and cultural nature of the violence suffered by Central American migrant women in their place of origin is one of the main causes that promote their migratory journey. Central American women face a system of inequality and social exclusion built on historical parameters of power that are markedly discriminatory and exclusive.

This project tries to make visible the causes and motivations that generate a migration with a gender focus, documenting the structural, cultural and physical violence that Central American women face, through their experiences in the country of origin and their extreme vulnerability in the framework of the regional situation, all this, factor of expulsion of their countries.

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  • A teenage girl from El Salvador, passes in front of a graffiti that reads “See, listen and shut up” a threatening message widely spread among gang territory to remind the population, that is best to avoid talking about what goes on in the area, or they could face lethal consequences.

  • Marcela, 15, was assassinated in San Salvador in July 2015. She was walking with her sister when a man approached them and shot her twice in the head, killing her instantly. Her boyfriend a bus driver, had previously been approached by gang members and asked to collaborate with them when he denied, they killed him.

  • Two underage suspected gang members are detained and accused of collaboration in the attacks against the public transport in San Salvador, that left nine bus drivers dead and paralysed the city for three days in October 2015.

  • Mimi a 15-year-old girl from El Salvador, volunteers at “Comandos de Salvamento” an ambulance and first aid service. She is a first responder when there is a medical emergency, including cases of extreme violence and people who have been severely injured or killed by the gangs.

  • A woman visits her husband at hospital, after being shots by suspected gang members outside his home. He was shot in the leg and in the stomach; the family is not aware of the reasons why the gangs tried to kill him.

  • A Mara Salvatrucha gang member is detained while travelling with his wife and kid on the way to the hospital. Police was looking for gang members after the attack on public transport the for three days paralysed the city of San Salvador and left 9 bus drivers killed.

  • Migrants travelling on a boat cross the Guatemala/Mexico border irregularly. They travel with smugglers from Central America, all the way to the northern border of Mexico/US. The overage cost is around $8000 per person.

  • A Central American woman cleans up while waiting for a boat to cross her from Guatemala into Mexico irregularly.

  • A group of migrant’s travel pilled up on a van, from the southern border of Mexico to the central region. Migrants use all forms of transportation to make their way to the US. If caught on the road by immigration officials they are deported back to Central America.

  • Alexandra LGBTIQ woman walks with her luggage on the head to board a freight train to travelling from Irapuato to Guadalajara, Mexico. She was part of a group of 15 to 20 LGBTIQ women that had to leave Central America after being persecuted by gang members and highly discriminated by society. They were all part of a larger caravan that took place last April in Mexico.

  • A migrant woman travelling on a freight train from Irapuato to Guadalajara wakes up with the sunrise. The caravan travelled from the south to the north of Mexico with a total of over 1000 migrant from Central America, many were families running fleeing violence.

  • Margarita Esperanza a 57 year old woman from Honduras travelling on a freight train in the South of Mexico. She is trying to reach the northern border, where her son lives. Since it is impossible for her to continue living in Honduras due to a total lack of economic resources.

  • Two kids travelling on a cargo train in Mexico cry while seen their mother getting off the train, to use a toilet. These kids are of the migrant caravan organised by “Pueblos sin fronteras” (US/Mexican organisation) that travel with a group of over 1000 central American migrant many end up entering the US asking for refugee status and kids where separated from their parents.

  • A Guatemalan woman prays at the chapel of a migrant’s shelter in the South of Mexico, before continuing her journey to the US. Migrants endure a very difficult and violent journey especially women, when crossing Mexico.

  • Mary puts on her legs prosthesis, at her house in El Salvador.
    Mary was travelling on top of a freight train on route to the US, when a group of migrants decided to jump of the train, to avoid an immigration checkpoint, when she fail off the train and lost both of her legs.

  • A migrant's rests stop with Grupo Beta, (Mexico’s Border Patrol).
    Grupo Beta works as a humanitarian organisation, whose main functions are to patrol the border and help migrants with food, water and information. Many times, they have to rescue injured, lost and dehydrated migrants. According to humanitarian groups working in the region, rapists hang women's undergarments from trees and bushes along the way, as "trophies."

  • A Guatemalan woman rest in a shelter, she decided to take a contraception injection before travelling, in order to avoid being pregnant in case of being sexually assaulted. This is a common practice among women, as rape can be extremely high among migrant population.

  • A woman waits to make a report at a police station, after being kidnapped along with a group of 12 migrants. Migrants were kidnaped in the middle of the afternoon by a couple of armed guys, who identified themselves as being from one of the main cartels operating in the area. But one of the migrants managed to scape and alert the police who organised a rescue team. Eventually the kidnapers were charged with robbery rather tan kidnapping, that has practically not prison sentences in Mexico.

  • A migrant and recovers from a violent attacked after being kidnapped. Another woman who promise to help her crossing into the United States tricked her, and end up selling her to kidnappers that held her for over 48 hours. She was beaten up in front of her toddler; eventually the kidnappers throw her at a rubbish dumping area in the outskirts of Tijuana

  • Carla Patricia Pérez’s image is placed over cempasúchis flowers, or "flower of the dead" in a market in Central Mexico while her mother Marta Pérez from Nicaragua looks for her in the caravan of missing migrants.