KC Southern caught in migration debate

07/20/2014 8:16 PM

07/20/2014 8:38 PM

Headlines from 20 years ago are intricately connected to those of today for Kansas City Southern.

In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement began, an anniversary the rail line will mark Tuesday during a conference. NAFTA launched an expansion for the company. It created the subsidiary Kansas City Southern de México, which runs on rail lines connecting the Midwest to the Pacific coast of Mexico.

But it’s the then-unexpected human cargo of trains that is in the news now.

Thousands of Central Americans have tried to cross into the U.S. this year, some hitching rides atop freight trains moving north within Mexico.

For more than a year, the Kansas City-based rail line has deflected allegations that it is somehow complicit in the violence that happens to the migrants, many of them children traveling alone. Gangs often target the Central Americans for robbery, rape and extortion.

In March, officials with the Mexican state of Veracruz said they wanted to hold Kansas City Southern’s Mexican subsidiary and another line, Ferrosur, partly responsible for dangers migrants face on the rail lines. Kansas City Southern officials say they never received any such complaint from that state.

They point out that they do not have lines in the southernmost portions of Mexico where migrants cross from Guatemala. And they emphasize security and cooperative actions with Mexican and American immigration officials to limit both the number of migrants who attempt to ride their routes and the violence they might face.

Mexico has recently announced plans to better monitor migrants at its southern border and to stop them from boarding trains.

On Tuesday, the president of Kansas City Southern de México will be in Kansas City for a conference at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Critics of trade agreements such as NAFTA say it destabilized rural poorer communities in Mexico and, for a time at least, increased illegal migration to the U.S. as people left to find work north of the border. Others point to the factories that opened, employing Mexicans at home. There are truths to both contentions.

Car manufacturing in Mexico is expected to increase in coming years, with KC Southern’s lines in Mexico probably moving parts and the final products. Yet conditions in Central America have worsened, with drug cartels inciting violence and poverty continuing unabated. Hence, the new stream of migrants, seeking ways north.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com. On Twitter: @msanchezcolumn.

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