ARRIAGA, Mexico - The Salvadoran migrant was trying to skirt new police patrols in southern Mexico when a band of criminals shot him in the neck.
With Mexico cracking down on a tide of illegal crossings at its southern border with Guatemala, Central American migrants like Albert have to take new, and in his case riskier, routes to hide on their trek to the United States.
The authorities are now stopping a freight train known as "The Beast" that migrants have been riding for decades on their way north despite the risk of deadly falls on the tracks.
The new measures were announced in July after the United States declared a humanitarian crisis due to a surge of unaccompanied Central American children who have been caught at the US-Mexico border.
For Albert and two relatives, this cat-and-mouse game led to a near fatal run-in with a band of criminals as they headed to Arriaga, a town in the state of Chiapas known as a transit point for Central Americans heading north.
Recuperating at the Good Pastor Shelter for migrants in the nearby city of Tapachula, Albert, a 29-year-old who refused to give his last name, recounted his near-death experience.
His group was hiding away from the train tracks when they were ambushed by criminals who wanted to take $70 off his pockets.
"We wanted to avoid immigration officials but didn't expect we would run into criminals," Albert said, relieved that he managed to escape the assailants alive.
'Things got ugly'
An estimated 200,000 migrants cross Mexico's southern border every year and face the risk of extortion, kidnapping and even murder at the hands of drug cartels and other criminals on their way north.
Authorities say they deported some 6,000 Central Americans in August. The Mexican government says the new measures seek to protect migrants who risk their lives on top of The Beast.
US officials say fewer unaccompanied children have been caught at the US-Mexico border in the past two months.
Migrants and workers at shelters say agents from the National Migration Institute and soldiers have been operating in Arriaga since early August, often at night.
"Things got ugly, with migrants running everywhere, on the train tracks and into modest hotels" along the railway, said a hotel manager.
El Salvador has asked Mexico's National Human Rights Commission to investigate an August 6 operation in which 25 girls, 16 women and eight men were detained, said the Salvadoran general consul in Chiapas, Herbert Guzman.
"They were taken violently, treated like criminals, without being explained why they were detained," Guzman said, adding that they were denied immediate consular aid.
Some said they were struck with stun guns and others claimed their money was seized, the consul said as he fielded a steady stream of calls and reviewed documents in his small consular office.