LOS ANGELES — In June of this year, 49-year-old Maria Torres, a Mexican immigrant from the state of Chihuahua, left her children with only the clothes on her back, a gallon of water, and some food. her sister and crossed the southern border of the US in Sasabe, Arizona, to begin her journey north through the Sonoran Desert in hopes of reaching her family in Phoenix.
“I believe in the American dream. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I know you have to work hard to achieve it, just like you would here,” Torres told Yahoo News in Spanish.
Torres was 4 years old when her family moved to Agua Prieta, a Mexican border community bordering Douglas, Ariz. Torres said that from a young age she felt that the international boundary line was a reminder that she was on the wrong side of the rustic border fence.
“I want to go to the United States and of course work – work to build a house for my kids. Because here in Mexico the house I’m renting is so small, there’s no room for the four of us. I want that we can call a home of ours,” she said.
Torres is a single mother of three who barely makes ends meet and earns 200 pesos (just under $10) an hour packing candy bags at a candy store. She said that sometimes it’s not enough to buy food, let alone fund a good education for her children.
“I always tell my kids that I’ll work hard so they can pursue their dream careers so they don’t have to struggle like I did when I was young,” she said.
During the hot summer months, temperatures in the desert can reach from 120 to 130 degrees. In June, Torres left for the US with a group of nine people. She was one of two women; two of the seven men were guides known as “coyotes.”
“I spent five days there: three of those I got lost, and two of those days we walked,” she said.
Some in Torres’ group fell ill, too weak to continue the trek after hours of walking under the blazing sun through the rugged landscapes of the Sonoran Desert. Others, including Torres, decided to return to Mexico rather than risk further death. “What kept me alive was the thought of my children; I wanted to see them with all my heart. I knew I had to be strong to get out,” Torres said.
During their journey back south, the group was apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials and immediately deported to Sasabe, Mexico, under the controversial pandemic-era health protocols known as Title 42.
A Sept. 16 injunction by a federal judge blocking Title 42 applies only to vulnerable migrant families with children. The latest move excludes the thousands of vulnerable men and women who crossed alone, such as Torres, who now lives in limbo on the Mexican side of the border.
Torres was just one of many migrants displaced at the time. Dora Rodriguez, a humanitarian aid worker, told Yahoo News that in June, agents displaced 150 or more people a day in the remote area of Sasabe, where there are towns with identical names on each side of the border.
“Sasabe, Ariz., is a town for about 500 people. I mean, about 50 families or so,” Rodriguez said. “And Sasabe, Sonora, is another very rural town; the population of the locals is about 1500 but it goes higher with migrants all over the city because it is a place where people cross the road so many people wait there for the smugglers in those areas to send them to the terrible area in the desert. ”
Rodriguez established an information center in Sasabe, Mexico called House of Hope after realizing during one of her visits to the rural border community that hundreds of migrants were being deposed by Title 42 border police officers.
“When I say ‘remote’, it means that there is no services, no transport. There is no hospital, there is no shelter. There is nothing. And as I’ve said every time, it’s only organized crime waiting for these people to get, again, convinced [to cross the desert], and go back. So it was a crisis because that city doesn’t have what it takes to accommodate 700 migrants or more a week,” she said.
Aware of the dangers the trip to the US poses, like hundreds of asylum seekers in her shoes, Torres said she will try again next year — risking her life again.
“I go with the aim of working wherever they hire me, be it in a restaurant, as a dishwasher or housekeeping, whatever. I just want to work,” she said.
Torres said she will make her second attempt at entering the US during the colder months, and when she does, she plans to take her three children with her.
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