While illegal crossings into the United States are down, thousands of Central Americans continue to flee their countries.
It is a journey that takes many into Mexico. And it is in this country many migrants say they endure violence at the hands of criminals, corrupt police and human smugglers.
At El Sombrero Azul in Laredo, owner Walter Hercules and his parents stay busy in a small, humble kitchen located outside of the main restaurant building.
Hercules’ mother works the masa dough, forming corn cakes known as pupusas and placing them on a hot grill.
“This is a staple in our country of El Salvador,” said Hercules.
A taste of home feeds hungry souls.
The no-frills restaurant on West Calton Road has become a gathering place for Central American migrants.
Hercules has gotten to know many of his customers.
From time to time, some have shared painful memories of their journey from their homeland to the United States with Hercules.
“It hurts a lot. But what do we do,” said a customer who agreed to speak with NBC 5 if we did not reveal his name.
He’s scared of being deported back to his native Honduras.
But his story is all too common among undocumented Central American migrants.
“It’s very dangerous for us there in Mexico,” he said.
He said the constant threat of violence and extreme poverty in Honduras drove him out.
He says he fled his country, only to be met with more cruelty on his journey through Guatemala and Mexico.
It is in Mexico he says corrupt police, soldiers and drug cartel members often demand bribes to be allowed through.
“When you cross the river into Mexico there are gangs who charge you a quota to go through,” he said.
Some migrants turn to La Bestia, The Beast, to make the trip across Mexico. The network of Mexican freight trains runs from the Guatemalan border to the U.S. Human rights workers say it is a dangerous ride, especially for young women.
“They rape the women, rape the girls who are 16, 15 years old,” he said.
The migrant says human smugglers kidnapped him, demanding thousands of dollars over what they had initially told him it would cost to help him cross into Texas illegally.
“Smugglers kidnapped me and I didn’t have any family to pay,” he said.
He feels like to have been freed and ending up at a migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo.
A shelter, similar to the Holding Institute in Laredo.
Mike Smith runs the faith-based non-profit that dates back to the 1800s.
It currently provides services to anyone, no matter their legal status.
On this day, the institute was loading up a vehicle with rice, beans and other food products to take to Cuban migrants stranded in Nuevo Laredo.
When it comes to undocumented migrants, Smith says they often become victims.
“They’re a very vulnerable population,” said Smith. “Not many people know this: human smuggling has a greater profit market for smugglers than drug smuggling does.”
The drug, he says is consumed, and has no further value.
Migrants, on the other hand, often confront forced labor or the sex trade after having to borrow thousands of dollars, to help pay to be brought to the U.S.
“That person will be used and used and used, over and over again until they are literally squeezed and rung out like a towel,” said Smith.
When it comes to the president’s proposed border wall, Smith see it as “more of a political statement.”
He fears human trafficking will only become more lucrative.
“[Migrants] just hear this talk of a wall,” he said. “They’ve never actually seen it. And so the smuggler will approach them and say, ‘You know what, this wall has just been built, so I’m going to have to charge you more.’ So what that means for that person is they’re going to have to borrow more… You will pay one way or another.”
Since 2014, Mexico has toughed its southern border.
Human rights organization, Washington Office on Latin America, released a report in the fall of 2016 that found “Mexico’s apprehensions of migrants went from 86,298 in 2013 to 198,141 in 2015, and there have already been 99,768 apprehensions in the first seven months of 2016.”
According to WOLA, despite the increase in apprehensions, Mexico has failed to strengthen its capacity to adequately screen migrants who might be eligible for protection, raising concerns about migrants’ rights and due process.
While the flood of undocumented Central Americans has subsided in recent years, desperation remains.
And for those who’ve walked the same walk as those migrants reportedly only seeking safety and a better life, Central Americans demand more humane treatment from Mexico.
“Mexico is in the wrong too,” said the unnamed migrant. “If it is asking the United States for opportunities for its people, Mexico has to give Central Americans opportunities too. Because we deserve it.”