Cynthia Gorney reports in National Geographic how the pace of illegal migration over the border separating Mexico and Guatemala has accelerated in the past decade, as Central Americans seek to escape unrelenting poverty at home. Some of those migrants eventually make their way to the U.S., while others remain in Mexico or are deported.The hundreds of thousands of people who attempt the cross the border illegally every year face the risk of robbery, violence, disease and encounters with corrupt border officials. Meanwhile, many Mexicans who live near the Guatemalan border talk of immigrants stealing jobs and undermining community values, echoing complaints heard in the U.S. The Mexican government has taken some steps to stem the flow of traffic across the border. A deportation station has been expanded in the border town of Tapachula in Mexico’s southern Chiapas state. Every day, buses ferry illegal migrants back south of the border. A fear of being stopped by immigration officials has prompted some migrants to attempt to cross the border in more lawless regions of Chiapas or in the neighboring state of Tabasco.But there are contradictions in the official response. Even as some officials look to deport illegal immigrants, another team of roving government employees is charged with protecting them from robbers and illness. And Street hawkers selling migrants rickshaw rides and supplies for the road ahead work with impunity next to official border guards.

For many hopeful border crossers, freight trains are the best way to travel north, although a hurricane that knocked out part of a regional train line has complicated the journey. Some villages will offer food and water to the migrants clinging to freight trains traveling north. At other villages, locals will rush the train to rob the migrants.

Not all the migrants are U.S.-bound. In Chiapas, undocumented Guatemalan workers provide crucial labor for the coffee, banana and mango harvests. An unnamed former official in Chiapas tells Ms. Gorney that he doubts Mexico could ever stop the flow of migrants. “You can put all the control measures down there that you want, but it’s not going to be fixed,” he says. “The solution is to eliminate poverty.” – Robin Moroney