OCTOBER 2002

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Trains Still Lure Mexicans to U.S.

Mon Oct 21, 3:23 AM ET

By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer

LOS CONOS, Mexico (AP) - Janeth Molina knows how harrowing it is to stow away on a train in pursuit of the American dream. She did it three years ago.

And despite hearing that two cousins from Los Conos were among 11 migrants found dead in a locked rail car in Iowa last week, she said she would risk it again.

"It's a terrible journey, but arriving to a job and a life that is so much better is worth it," she said.

Molina, a soft-spoken single mother of two, lives across the road from the home of 23-year-old Roberto Esparza, whose ID card was found along with that of his teenage cousin among the decomposing bodies discovered in a boxcar last Monday in Denison, Iowa. The migrants apparently were cooked alive by the summer sun.

In June 1999, Molina took a journey nearly identical to Esparza's, leaving this village of limited opportunities and hopping a train at the border. Unlike Esparza, she succeeded.

Molina spent two years in Harrisonburg, Va., working at a chicken processing plant where she earned $400 a week. She returned to Los Conos last August when her daughter fell ill and now works 12-hour days as a cook at a Nissan factory in the nearby city of Aguascalientes. Her salary is $40 a week.

Like Esparza, Molina's journey began when she got on a bus with a smuggler she met in Los Conos and rode to Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

She waited two days, then returned to the bus station in the middle of the night and met two men who showed her and two other migrants where to wade across the Rio Grande.

"Before I went I was most afraid of drowning in the river," said Molina, 28. "But the crossing was over in five minutes."

Once in U.S. territory, the guides led the migrants to a group of 10 other migrants and drove the group to a nearby rail yard.

After several hours, a train bound for Houston stopped in the yard and Molina and 12 men and women from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador (news - web sites) and Ecuador climbed aboard an open-air rail car packed with clear-plastic bags filled with garbage.

A stiff rain fell as the train began moving, she recalled, and the car reeked with trash and sweat.

At dawn Molina was awakened by the frantic whispers of a man beside her. U.S. Border agents were searching the train, which had stopped to pick up more cargo.

The migrants scattered, scrambling farther down the train over rain-slicked metal ledges. Molina hid in a car filled with brake pads, then squeezed in among a pile of crates. Finally, she crawled into a car filled with aluminum siding.

The train eventually started moving again, and three men were there to meet the migrants when they arrived in a Houston freight yard 24 hours later. Molina paid one of the men $1,500 for her crossing, then drove with him to Alabama.

There she called her brother, who had been living in Virginia for 14 years. Now a U.S. citizen, her brother picked her up and drove her to Harrisonburg.

"I liked it there in the United States," said Molina. "There they pay you well and your life is different. There is enough money that no one is miserable, like everyone here."

Molina said she applied for a U.S. work visa, but was told she would not receive one following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She said the American government has given her no choice but to cross the border illegally for a second time.

"I would really like to go back but now I'm afraid," she said. "The next time what happened to Roberto could happen to me."


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