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  • Migrants from Central America gather at the U.S./Mexico border seeking asylum in Tijuana, Mexico, April 2018.

    Migrants from Central America gather at the U.S./Mexico border seeking asylum in Tijuana, Mexico, April 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 August 2018
Opinion

From the southern border with Guatemala to the northern border with the United States, AFP spent 24 hours with migrants crossing Mexico to chase their American dreams.

"Being a migrant means being an outcast," says Andres Sanchez, 18, a day after being deported from the United States for the second time. A native of Puebla in central Mexico, he tried to cross the border two months ago with a fake tourist visa he bought from a middleman for US$3,500.

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But the document was registered as stolen, and U.S. authorities detained and deported Sanchez. Now, carrying nothing but a Bible and a plastic wallet, he is contemplating his next move at a migrant shelter in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. U.S. authorities warned him he would face six months in prison if he tried to enter the country illegally again.

Having just spent two months in detention, he said: "It's really cold in prison. You can barely sleep." Going back home is not an option either. But neither is his current state of limbo on the border. "It's hard to be far from your family," he says.

As for Micaela Perez, 24, she nearly died trying to reach the U.S. border. "The most horrible part is crossing the desert. I ran out of food and water, so I had to turn myself in," she says, a day after being deported for the third time.

She paid US$1,500 to a middleman so she could enter the United States. But the ordeal left her with nothing, not even the clothes on her back. The ones she is wearing now were given to her at a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez.

A native of Mexico's poorest state, Chiapas in the south, she is desperately trying to reunite with her husband, who came to the United States two years ago. She spent six days in detention before being deported. U.S. authorities warned her she would face 20 years the next time.

Angel Saravia, 61, explains: "We have to emigrate to get ahead. We suffer for it, but we have to take the risk." However, after his last deportation six years ago, Saravia decided he had had enough of being treated as an "illegal alien." Today, he lives in a remote cabin in the Matadero canyon, near the border that separates Tijuana, Mexico from San Diego.

"This is a kind of sanctuary. I live far away from everyone, from people who think deported migrants are criminals. Here, nobody points their finger at me. People just leave me alone."

Sandra Hernandez, 28, left two children behind in her native Honduras to make her way north with her youngest daughter, four-year-old Danaya. They have traveled most of the way by hopping the freight train known as 'The Beast.'

A domestic worker in Honduras, Hernandez says her pay was too meager to support her family. "It's hard to leave your children behind," she says. When she calls them on the phone, she cries. They are six and nine years old.

Pausing at a migrant shelter in Guadalupe, in eastern Mexico, she is planning to hit the road again in three days' time, but she fears being separated from her daughter at the U.S. border.

David Ramirez, 23, has traveled by truck, boat and train to make it from Honduras to this shelter in Guadalupe. He has already been deported from the United States twice, but is determined to try again, even though he has been targeted by the criminal gangs that attack and rob migrants.

At the shelter, he is helping prepare bags of food to give to migrants riding 'The Beast.' "It makes me really happy to hand out food to them, but also really sad," he says.

Soon he plans to join them again, trying to reach his aunt's home in Michigan.

Raquel Padilla, 27, misses the son she left behind in her native Honduras. Four months pregnant, she has paused at a migrant refuge in Guadalajara, in western Mexico, before continuing her journey. "Every Central American dreams of migrating." 

Asked what her most prized possession is, she smiles. "The baby in my belly."

Graciela, 16, started her journey by giving birth to a baby boy, Cesar, in a bathroom near the Mexican-Guatemalan border. Now she is at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, on the U.S.-Mexico border, waiting for Mexican authorities to issue him a birth certificate. She wants to obtain Mexican papers, then seek asylum in the United States.

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