“I was afraid for my daughter in the river. I feel tired, exhausted, but with the dream of being able to work if the immigration services listen to us with the heart”, confides this Guatemalan of 30 years.

The family left their home in Honduras because of crime and lack of jobs, and traveled a long way by train and on foot to get here.

An ordeal that sometimes turns tragic, as for the 53 migrants who died after suffocating in a semi-trailer in San Antonio.

Alongside Selvin Allende, his wife walks with a painful air, her eyes half-closed, towards the border police who are waiting for them under one of the bridges that connect Mexico to the United States. All in all, their belongings fill two plastic bags.

Officers review their passports, as well as those of other recent arrivals, and board them to consider their asylum claims.

The scene is repeated several times a day under the resigned gaze of the police. “It never stops. They can cross anywhere and anytime,” said a National Guard soldier wishing to remain anonymous.

Reinforcements at the border in recent months have not stemmed the arrival of visa-free migrants. In May, authorities arrested more than 239,000 people at the border with Mexico, a record, although the figure includes individuals who attempted the crossing several times.

– “I’m crying with joy” –

On the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, a few minibuses come and go, dropping off those who will cross the river.

It is 37°C this afternoon and a few migrants are cooling off in the water, awaiting the arrival of other candidates for the crossing to attempt the ford in this treacherous river which has already claimed so many lives.

A Venezuelan family, five men, two women and two children, decide the time has come. Their crossing takes 10 minutes and, in the middle of the ford, they have to cling to each other to resist the powerful currents.

When they arrive on the American side, they scream with joy before handing themselves over to the border police.

The relief can be read on all faces. Alejandro Galindo, another Venezuelan who crossed near here, shares his emotion after a 26-day journey with his two companions.

“I’m crying with joy. I want to help my family. In Venezuela, we had no future,” says the 28-year-old.

– Refuge – 

Eagle Pass, a town of 22,000 inhabitants 230 km from San Antonio, has learned to live with the daily presence of migrants.

A few meters from the bridge, the golfers on the yellowish grass pay no attention to those crossing the river.

Valeria Wheeler, who runs a shelter, witnesses the challenges of the current wave of migration every day.

Its facilities, which received 20 migrants a week two years ago, now house up to 600 a day.

Those who spend a few hours there take advantage of benches, toilets and showers in a large warehouse, waiting for a relative to pay for their ticket to another city.

Their profile has changed lately, says Valeria Wheeler. The new arrivals are poorer than before, and have often had to walk from Mexico or the small countries of Central America.

“They arrive with physical and psychological injuries”, explains the director of the refuge, which only welcomes those who have been released by border guards after escaping “Title 42”.

This measure, inherited from the Trump era, makes it possible to deport any migrant without a visa, even asylum seekers, on the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For those trying to evade border police and immediate deportation, the crossing is even more dangerous, and will cost up to $10,000 if they hire a smuggler.

“We are here so that people who arrive at the shelter do not have to experience the same thing” as the victims of the San Antonio tragedy, says Valeria Wheeler. “That’s what we work for.”