Single mother expelled to Mexico recalls the lessons learned from her journey

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LOS ANGELES — In June of this year, with only the clothes on her back, a gallon of water and a little bit of food, 49-year-old Maria Torres, a Mexican immigrant from the state of Chihuahua, left her children behind with her sister and crossed the U.S.’s southern border in Sasabe, Ariz., to begin her trek 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 one has to work hard to achieve it, just like you would here,” Torres told Yahoo News, speaking in Spanish.

Torres was 4 years old when her family moved to Agua Prieta, a Mexican border community that neighbors Douglas, Ariz. Torres said that even at a young age, she felt the international boundary line was a reminder that she lived on the wrong side of the rustic border fence.

In June of this year, 49-year old Maria Torres, a Mexican immigrant from the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, decided to cross the southern border in Sasabe, Arizona, to begin her trek north through the Sonoran desert in hopes of reaching her family in Phoenix. (Courtesy of Maria Torres)In June of this year, 49-year old Maria Torres, a Mexican immigrant from the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, decided to cross the southern border in Sasabe, Arizona, to begin her trek north through the Sonoran desert in hopes of reaching her family in Phoenix. (Courtesy of Maria Torres)

Maria Torres. (Courtesy of Maria Torres)

“I want to go to the United States, and of course, work — work to be able to build a home for my children. Because here in Mexico the home I rent, it’s so small, there’s no room for us four. I want us to be able to call a home ours,” she said.

Torres is a single mother of three who is barely scraping by, earning 200 pesos (a bit under $10) an hour packing candy bags at a candy shop. She said it’s sometimes not enough to buy food, let alone fund a good education for her children.

“I always tell my kids that I will work hard so that they can go after 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 anywhere from 120 to 130 degrees. In June, Torres set out for the U.S. 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 out there: Three of those I got lost, and two of those days we walked,” she said.

Some in Torres’s group became ill, too weak to continue the trek after hours of walking under the scorching sun through the harsh landscapes of the Sonoran Desert. Others, including Torres, decided to return to Mexico rather than further risk death. “What kept me alive was the thought of my children; I wanted to see them with all of my heart. I knew I needed to be strong to get out there,” Torres said.

Crosses left by border activists mark the locations where the remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the United States through the harsh conditions of the Sonoran Desert were discovered, January 28, 2021 in the Altar Valley, Arizona. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)Crosses left by border activists mark the locations where the remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the United States through the harsh conditions of the Sonoran Desert were discovered, January 28, 2021 in the Altar Valley, Arizona. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Crosses left by border activists mark the locations where the remains of migrants who died trying to cross into the U.S. in the Altar Valley, Ariz., were discovered. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

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 order by a federal judge blocking Title 42 applies only to vulnerable migrant families with children. The latest action excludes the thousands of vulnerable men and women who crossed over alone, like Torres, who is now living in limbo on the Mexican side of the border.

Torres was only one of many such migrants who were expelled at the time. Dora Rodriguez, a humanitarian aid worker, told Yahoo News that in June, agents were expelling 150 people or more a day in the remote area of Sasabe, where there are cities with identical names on each side of the border.

“Sasabe, Ariz., is a town for like 500 people. I mean, like 50 families or so,” Rodriguez said. “And Sasabe, Sonora, is another very rural town; the population of locals is like 1,500 but it goes higher with migrants in all around the town, because it’s a spot where people cross, so a lot of people are waiting there until the smugglers in those areas send them to the terrible area in the desert.”

The border wall stretches along the landscape near Sasabe, Ariz. on May 19, 2021. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)The border wall stretches along the landscape near Sasabe, Ariz. on May 19, 2021. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

The border wall near Sasabe, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Rodriguez founded a resource center in Sasabe, Mexico, called Casa de la Esperanza after she realized during one of her visits to the rural border community that hundreds of migrants were being dropped off by Border Patrol officials under Title 42.

“When I say ‘remote,’ it means there is nothing of services, no transportation. There is no hospital, there is no shelter. There’s nothing. And like I said every time, it’s only organized crime that is waiting for these people who, again, get convinced [to cross the desert], and go back. So it was a crisis, because that town doesn’t have what it takes to handle 700 migrants or more a week,” she said.

Aware of the dangers the journey to the U.S. has, like hundreds of asylum seekers in her shoes, Torres said she’ll try again next year — risking her life again.

“I’m going with the goal to work wherever they hire me, whether that’s in a restaurant, as a dishwasher, or housekeeping, anything. I just want to work,” she said.

Torres said she will make her second attempt to enter the U.S. during the cooler months, and when she does, she plans on bringing her three children with her.

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