A migration without end

Story highlights

  • Michelle Frankfurter photographed Central American migrants traveling to the United States
  • Her photos were taken during several trips to Mexico between 2009 and 2014
  • "There's a lot of sadness and deprivation, but there's a lot of beauty in it as well," she said

(CNN)Central American migrants en route to the United States face incredibly tough odds.

If they're not tossed from a train or left in a desert, they may be cheated -- or worse.
"People would tell me: 'Well, we've kind of accepted, or, we're used to being robbed and beaten and raped,' " photographer Michelle Frankfurter said.
    "They're willing to risk all that," she said. "It sheds some light on just how bad things are in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala."
    Between 2009 and 2014, Frankfurter took several trips to Mexico to document migrants' journey from the country's southern border to its northern one.
    Michelle Frankfurter
    She was inspired by "Enrique's Journey," a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario, which tells the story of a Honduran boy risking it all to reunite with his mother in the United States.
    "I watched these people leave everything behind -- leave with nothing but a little backpack with a few belongings -- and then this faith that they have," Frankfurter said.
    "There's a lot of sadness and deprivation, but there's a lot of beauty in it as well," she said.
    She described her favorite photograph from the series (No. 11 in the gallery above). Taken inside a makeshift chapel, it shows a crucifix, a wounded man and several migrants resting on the floor alongside dogs.

    Social media

    Follow @CNNPhotos on Twitter to join the conversation about photography.

    "I've been to that particular place a number of times and I never ever saw that kind of confluence of elements together in one single image like that," she said. "Everything to me is in that one photograph."
    Frankfurter found people to follow at shelters. She'd spend a couple days with a group before venturing out to the rail yard and hopping a train.
    She takes a long-view approach.
    Rather than see the current rush of migrants as something like the break of a dam, Frankfurter has watched the pressure build for decades -- as civil wars, trade policies and a booming drug trade combine to squeeze people from all sides.
    She lived in Nicaragua in the late 1990s.
    "I kept thinking that I would see that wave taper off ... and instead there was just this dramatic spike," Frankfurter said. "It seems like a story that just keeps mutating in a way, but just keeps on going, and that there is no real end to it."
    Michelle Frankfurter is a photographer based in Maryland. You can follow her blog.