I met Ana Lizbeth Bonía, 28, from Comayagua, Honduras, at La Casa del Migrante Diócesis in Juárez, Mexico, near the U.S. border. Ana arrived at the shelter days away from giving birth, having traveled for ten months with her two-year-old son, José Luis, and her husband, Luis Orlando Rubí, 22. They had fled Honduras with 500 lempira (equivalent to $21) in their pockets, in an effort to escape threats of violence from a gang that had tried to extort Luis, who ran a business fixing cell phones.
Their journey to Juárez lasted nearly a year because whenever the family ran out of money, they begged in the streets or found a place to work, staying in one city or another until they could afford to move on. She and Luis discovered that migrant shelters were often run for profit, and that to eat or shower, the shelter would charge them money.
Like many migrants, Ana had fled the threat of violence in her home country, but she also desperately wanted her children to have access to a good education. "My mom took me to work when I was four years old," Ana told me. "She had a vegetable and fruit business, and she would send us kids out to the street with baskets." Ana attended elementary school but was forced to drop out after that to help support her family. She wanted her children to have a different life.
When it came time for her to give birth, she told the workers at at La Casa del Migrante Diócesis that she didn't want Luis to be present; nobody knew why. When her newborn, Nicole, was fifteen days old, Luis had a violent fight with Ana. He was asked to leave the shelter for breaking the rules.
That day, Ana walked around with red scratch marks on her neck, saying, "I don't know where he is going. He will not return." Later, over plates of beans and squash and tortillas, she told me that another migrant had told her that Luis had planned all along to leave her and the children and cross the border alone. When she confronted him about the rumor, they fought.
After this, Ana no longer spoke about Luis, and I was aware that I would never know the true nature of their relationship. Traffickers often arrive with women they have prostituted along the migrant trail, leaving the pregnant women behind so that the shelter will cover the costs of the birth. "Maybe they are not related," Father Javier Calvillo Salazar, the director of the migrant shelter, speculated when I asked if he was worried about Ana since her husband had left. "They don't have any legal documents — no marriage registry, no birth certificate." And then he began to talk about how human trafficking was a bigger business than the drug trade. "Every migrant is a story, and you know the journey for many of them is similar — all the loss, all the pain, all the suffering," Father Javier said. "That is precisely the reality."
As more migrants arrived at the shelter, they began to share their stories with me. I listened to them all without question — even when they seemed too surreal to be true. One story in particular came to represent the difficulty of learning and understanding the truth at the shelter:
A pregnant woman on the migrant train La Bestia began to have contractions. "She screamed for help, but people began to move away from her," Father Javier recounted. "Her water broke and blood began to flow. The baby slid out, but at the time, the train stopped, the door opened. Blood flowed out, water flowed out, and then suddenly a crocodile appeared and ate the baby."