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These Honduran Migrants Mutilated By ‘The Beast’ Want to Talk to President Obama

They fell from the train that thousands of migrants ride each year to try to reach the United States. They say their mutilations are their "visas" to enter the country.

by Andalusia Knoll
Mar 13 2015, 6:15pm

Photo by Andalusia Knoll/VICE News

Jose Luis Hernandez considers himself one of the lucky ones.

In 2005, he fell from La Bestia — the precarious freight train that snakes through Mexico, and for thousands of Central American migrants like Hernandez is the only viable option for their attempts to reach the United States.

Within minutes of his fall from "The Beast," just outside of the city of Delicias, Chihuahua, a paramedic arrived and took him to a hospital.

Many who fall in isolated areas on La Bestia's thousand-plus-mile trajectory bleed to death before anyone else realizes that they have fallen. Hernandez's life was saved, but he lost one leg, one arm, and most of his left hand.

Jose Luis Hernandez uses one digit on his left arm for all his typing. (Photo by Andalusia Knoll)

All this week, Hernandez and other migrants mutilated in falls or accidents on La Bestia have rallied in Mexico City for support and awareness of their plight. The group, called the Association of Returned Migrants with Disabilities, or Amiredis in Spanish, held demonstrations on the central Zocalo square and in front of Mexico's Senate.

The migrants said they've been neglected and abused by Mexican immigration authorities. They plan on eventually taking a caravan to Washington DC and hope to meet with President Barack Obama.

"We are fallen soldiers. Our war has been the lack of opportunities and poverty," Hernandez told VICE News on Thursday.

Hernandez, now 29, traveled back to Honduras following two years of treatment in Mexico. At home, he realized that hundreds of other Hondurans had met his same fate.

Today the Honduran native walks with a prosthetic limb, which he received from the International Committee of the Red Cross. His group's efforts have successfully helped a handful of migrants secure visas to Mexico, and has also sought to get prosthetic limbs for others.

"We are swimming upstream," Hernandez said.

Related: Garifuna People Are Risking Everything to Flee Their Ancestral Honduran Homelands

A group of migrants mutilated by "The Beast" hope to caravan to Washington DC. (Photo by Andalusia Knoll)

In his small city of Progreso, Honduras, home to just over 100,000 people, Hernandez said he's counted 53 migrants who have been mutilated by La Bestia, and said he knows of more than 600 others across the country.

Seventeen disabled Honduran migrants traveled to Mexico this week to urge lawmakers to change the country's often repressive immigration policies. The group managed to meet with only an aide of a senator in Mexico City.

On this journey to Mexico, the migrants didn't have to risk their lives once more on La Bestia's back. The Mexican government granted them temporary humanitarian visas that allowed them to ride a bus and not fear deportation.

He felt what some migrants call 'the dog's bite,' the moment he fell and the train ripped his left leg from his body.

A smaller caravan of disabled Hondurans traveled to Mexico in April 2014 with similar goals, requesting a meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto, which he did not grant. This year, they will continue to the United States with the goal of meeting with President Barack Obama.

"I see how [Obama] treats Michelle. I think he has a good heart, not like the president here. I think he will listen to us," migrant Wilfredo Filiu Garay told VICE News.

The migrants said they had no concrete plan for approaching the US border and seeking entry. "Our visa [to the US] is our mutilation, our handicap, our lost arms and legs," Hernandez told the Los Angeles Times.

Related: Mexico Is Implementing New Measures to Curb Influx of US-Bound Central American Migrants

Wilfredo Filiu Garay lost his left leg while riding on La Bestia through Mexico. (Photo by Andalusia Knoll)

Filiu Garay is no stranger to the US, as he first migrated there in 1987 as a teenager. He lived all over the country, working as a roofer, landscaper and handyman.

He's also been deported from the US five times, and when asked how many times he had ridden La Bestia, Filiu simply threw his arms in the air and made a face implying that it had been too many times to count.

In 2010, Filiu decided to bring his teenage son with him on the journey to the US from Progreso. While passing through Veracruz, the two were kidnapped by the Zetas cartel, which at the time controlled smuggling routes in much of the state.

Filiu and his son were held and tortured for 15 days alongside a hundred other migrants, and only released once Filiu's wife in the US paid a $3,000 ransom, he said.

Fearing for his son's life, Filiu returned the teenager to Honduras, and continued on the journey by himself. That's when he felt what some migrants call "the dog's bite," referring to the moment in which he fell from the train and the wheels ripped his left leg from his body.

A year after his injury, he was able to obtain a prosthetic leg, but hasn't found work. He told VICE News one of the hardest things for him was that his wife left him after his injury, telling him: "You're useless to me now."

His first solution was alcohol, but he later found camaraderie in the Association of Returned Migrants with Disabilities. "We just hope that what has happened to us will never happen to anyone else," Filiu said.

Related: Immigrant America: Murder and Migration in Honduras. Watch it here.

You can follow Andalusia Knoll on Twitter @andalalucha.