Like so many people who choose to journey to the U.S. for a better life, Cinthya arrived at her decision after considering all possibilities. Amid great uncertainty and with limited resources, a central question is weighing the potential benefits of crossing against its financial, emotional, and physical costs. With prosecutions on the rise, this already fraught scenario can become even more complicated, creating further challenges and obstacles.
When Cinthya met José and fell in love, the goal of working in the same community and building a house there while providing support for their aging parents was a shared dream, but a difficult one to achieve as teachers in Mexico. Both taught in rural schools, some distance apart, through a government program that assigns teachers to underserved areas. Cinthya, 32, found the work fulfilling, but the pay—around US$200 a month—barely covered living expenses when she was single, never mind the regular round-trip cost of US$40 to travel from her tiny Oaxacan pueblo to the rural middle school over five hours away. So she’d moved near the school, and returned home once a month.
Once married, the couple investigated the possibility of working in the same area, but such teaching positions are hard to come by and often require connections to well-placed administrators or exorbitant bribes. Moreover, even with two salaries, Cinthya and José would not be able to financially assist Cinthya’s mother who lives on her own in a small house with dirt floors, or José’s parents who, also poor and living in the countryside, needed some basic home appliances. When a friend connected them with a reputable guide who could offer them a good deal, Cinthya and José decided to head to the U.S. with the blessing of their families.
The discounted cost? Around US$680 each to reach the U.S.–Mexico border and another $1,000 to cross through mafia territory. When they finally arrived in Agua Prieta, they stayed in a small hotel with many other migrants, where 4–6 people crossed daily, and waited there for three weeks until it was their turn to cross.
Their group consisted of five people, but no guide, and they were given a cell phone with directions to a pick-up point on the highway. At the designated spot, they were detected by U.S. Border Patrol agents, driving a truck with a horse trailer. Cinthya recalls that the agents approached on horseback, and seemed to be coaxing the horses to stomp on her group as a method of intimidation.
Held in Tucson for one night, Cinthya and José were processed and released, then crossed a second time with a guide and a group of six migrants. After several hours, they were again discovered by Border Patrol, and because it was their second attempt, they were taken to court in Tucson to be prosecuted through Operation Streamline.
Exhausted, confused, and despondent, Cinthya was separated from José, and in different group hearings, she was given a 30-day sentence while her husband received 60 days. Cinthya was able to spend a few minutes with José, before they were taken to their separate detention facilities, though they were prohibited from touching or hugging. They agreed on a plan: Cinthya would wait for José in whatever city she was deported to, and he would find her there.
Upon deportation to Nogales, she initially found her way to a migrant shelter with a 3-day maximum stay, and had no idea where she would go for the remaining weeks before reuniting with José. However, after arriving at the comedor, Sister Alicia brought Cinthya to the KBI women’s shelter, Casa Nazareth. “I immediately saw it was different [from the other place]” she said. “It is very calm, and I realized how exhausted I was. They gave me pajamas, blankets, and it was so glorious to sleep in that bed. I hadn’t felt safe like that for months.”
There, Cinthya felt more comfortable and safe. She could express herself with others more freely and formed friendships with the other women as they prepared food together and beaded bracelets and earrings for the women’s cooperative. When José joined her, they were able to rent a small apartment with the help of several people, and unknown well-wishers provided a suitcase full of things needed to start a home—a change of clothes, sheets, and a few kitchen items.
Now, the couple is employed at a Nogales factory, and though grateful for the work, they find themselves once again trying to make ends meet. Cinthya supplements their income through continued work with the cooperative, and is studying for a test to qualify for teaching some classes in Nogales.
Still, life is tenuous, resources scarce, and worries abound. Can she and José earn enough to survive in Mexico, send remittances to their parents, pay off their debt to their guide, and make their dreams of a house and a dignified life a reality? Neither she nor José wish to cross into the U.S. again, given the harsh sentences for repeat border crossers, but Canada might be a place where they can build a stable life.
In the meantime, Cinthya has become a valued addition to the KBI family, volunteering at Casa Nazareth several times a week. She plans activities for the kids and shares her experiences as a way to comfort herself and support other women. Reflecting on their various backgrounds and paths, all converging at the KBI, she told them, “We all come from different places and have different experiences and stories, but we can learn from each other and be proud of who we are.”