The number of Central American children and families being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border has dropped dramatically in recent months, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. There has been a 60 percent decline in apprehensions of minors since the record numbers making the illegal trek earlier this summer.
A lot of factors may be contributing to the dramatic drop, including heavy rains along the migrant route and media campaigns in home countries dispelling rumors that kids can stay in the U.S.
But one component seems to be increased security along Mexico's southern border. In the southern Mexican border town of Tapachula, Central American migrants say the increased presence of Mexican officials is blocking them from even trying to reach America.
A Honduran migrant's story
On a hot steamy evening at the Belen migrant shelter in Tapachula, about a dozen immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras sit outside, chatting and smoking cigarettes.
Walter Rivera sits off to the side. He says he left Honduras three months ago, where he had a good job driving foreign businessmen in his VIP taxi service.
"I didn't have any need to leave, I had a good job, making about $45 a day," Rivera says. But one night when he was driving home, a car cut him off and three men charged him.
"They hit me with a pistol across the face, then pulled me out of the car and threw me in the back," he says. "One of the guys said to another, 'Where should we kill this dog, right here or up in the hills?' "
At a red light, River says, he grabbed the door handle and pushed and just kept running through the lanes of traffic as fast as he could. He reported the crime and ended up in witness protection, but the criminals found him and threatened to kill him.
Rivera headed to the Mexican border where he asked for asylum. Instead, he was sent to jail for two months. He says he wishes he could go to the U.S., but he's heard the trip is too dangerous — mostly, he says, because the authorities in Mexico have beefed up patrols.
That's the concern of most of the migrants at the shelter. Many had little trouble crossing from Guatemala into Mexico, but got caught just hours up the road at Mexican police roadblocks. At the shelter's evening meal, open-faced bread with beans and cheese on top, a migrant says a prayer for those on their way north.
Several tell stories of authorities raiding buses, prohibiting them from boarding the cargo trains, collectively known as the Beast, which have long been the preferred transportation for hundreds of stowaway migrants. And many talk about having to walk for hours in the woods to evade Mexican police and army stops.
Diego Lorente Perez, a human rights worker in Tapachula, says Mexico's border enforcement isn't so much working as it's making the trip more dangerous and expensive.
"It's made migrants take more risks to get to the U.S.," Perez says. "They end up having to pay higher bribes to corrupt officials and larger smuggling fees."
The impact of Mexican enforcement
It's hard to say how much Mexico's stepped-up enforcement has driven down the number of Central Americans reaching the U.S. Mexican officials declined NPR's multiple requests for interviews. But the head of the Interior Department has publicly said that Mexico deported 60,000 Central Americans so far this year. That's nearly the total number deported last year, during a span of just seven months.
Honduras' consulate general Marco Tulio Bueso Guerra, at Mexico's southern border, says many migrants are just giving up their dreams of trying to get to the U.S. He says they are stuck; they can't get past the checkpoints and military, and end up staying put here in southern Mexico.
For Walter Rivera, the Honduran carjacking victim, he still hopes he can get to the U.S. one day. He was given residency in Mexico but can't find anyone who will hire him.
Rivera says that last leg of the journey into the U.S. is just too risky now. He's scared he could end up being sent back to Honduras, and what he says would be a certain death.