Thousands of children, most from Central America, are making their way to the border, many hoping to meet parents in the United States. But for those caught in Mexico, there is only near-certain deportation.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The children tumbled out of a white van, dazed and tired, rubbing sleep from their eyes.
They had been on their way north, traveling without their parents, hoping to cross the border into the United States.
They never made it.
Detained by Mexican immigration officers, they were brought to a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez, marched in single file and lined up against a wall for processing. For them, this facility about one mile from the border is the closest they will get to the United States.
“‘Mommy, I have bad news for you,’” one of the girls at the shelter, Elizabeth, 13, from Honduras, recalled telling her mother on the phone. “‘Don’t cry, but Mexican immigration caught me.’”
a growing wave of migrants hoping to find a way into the United States. If they make it across the border, they can try to present their case to the American authorities, go to school and one day find work and help relatives back home. Some can reunite with parents waiting there.
But for those caught before crossing the border, the long road north ends in Mexico.
If they are from elsewhere in the country, as a growing number are because of the economic toll of the pandemic, they can be picked up by a relative and taken home.
But most of them are from Central America, propelled north by a life made unsustainable by poverty, violence, natural disasters and the pandemic, and encouraged by the Biden administration’s promise to take a more generous approach to immigration.
They will wait in shelters in Mexico, often for months, for arrangements to be made. Then, they will be deported.
by the thousands.
“There is a big flow, for economic reasons, and it will not stop until people’s lives in these countries improve,” said José Alfredo Villa, the director of the Nohemí Álvarez Quillay shelter for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez.
In 2018, 1,318 children were admitted into shelters for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez, the local authorities said. By 2019, the number of admissions had grown to 1,510 children, though it dipped to 928 last year because of the pandemic.
But in the first two and a half months of this year, the number has soared to 572 — a rate that, if kept up for the rest of the year, would far surpass 2019, the highest year on record.
When children enter the shelter, their schooling stops, the staff unable to provide classes for so many children coming from different countries and different educational backgrounds. Instead, the children fill their days with art classes, where they often draw or paint photos of their home countries. They watch television, play in the courtyard or complete chores to help the shelter run, like laundry.