Esperanza is currently living in a Nogales, Sonora migrant shelter with her two children, a 12-year-old son and a 13-year-daughter. The family arrived to the border in late January to seek asylum. They fled their native state of Guerrero after the children’s father was murdered and there were threats to the rest of the family’s lives. When they arrived, they put their name on the metering list for asylum, and prepared to wait for several months for their turn to present at the port of entry.
Their initial routine included waking up at the largest migrant shelter in Nogales and then getting into a van for Grupos Beta, the Mexican-government run day shelter for migrants. They would wait there until it was time for breakfast at the Comedor, and walked the approximately half-mile to eat. Then, they returned to Grupos Beta until the afternoon meal. Esperanza would chat with other people or work on embroidery projects, while her kids were able to take classes at Grupos Beta. Around 6 pm, the family returned to the overnight shelter for the evening. Esperanza was able to earn a little bit of money through a cooperative project run out of Tucson that sold embroidered napkins and handkerchiefs to supporters in the U.S.
Then, in mid-March, everything changed. Esperanza says that Grupos Beta was the first place to close down because they feared the numbers of people on their premises would contribute to the virus’ spread, so they shut their doors. Esperanza and other migrants were left to pass their days wandering the streets, which became particularly problematic because police would stop them when they were out and tell them they were not allowed to be on the streets and must return to their shelter. And because of the risks and border closure, the embroidery cooperative was no longer able to come to Nogales, leaving Esperanza without the small income she had previously earned. She also misses the distraction of having work and an artistic project.
The director of the overnight shelter where she and dozens of other people were living told the families that they would have to move out because she wanted to avoid large numbers of people in the shelter. Alongside a group of other mothers, Esperanza looked for a place they could rent and share, but there was nowhere that fit into their budget. So they returned with a proposal for the director: that they be allowed to stay in the shelter, take good care of the space and their children; and that they sleep in the chapel and rise early to clean it for daytime use.
In order to reduce overcrowding at the shelter, the men are asked to leave during the day while the women and children stay behind. The families who sleep in the chapel, including Esperanza and her children, then move to the men’s dorm for the remainder of the day so that the chapel is free, per the director’s request. After cleaning the chapel and moving into the men’s dorm every day, they spend the rest of their day inside. There isn’t much for anyone to do, although Esperanza said that there recently was a TV that was donated, a huge relief for the children. And every day, two women from the shelter come to KBI to pick up to-go meals for the rest of the families, which they eat together. The families pool their money to pay for the taxi fare across town.
Though the days before the pandemic were not easy—Esperanza recalls being exhausted by all of the walking, in particular—she misses the freedom they had at that time: to go to grocery stores, do laundry, take children on necessary errands. The kids miss the diversions, as well. Now, the monotony of being inside all the time with very few things to do is even more challenging, particularly because Esperanza has no idea when this will end or when the U.S. will begin processing asylum-seekers once again.
Some individuals and families have left Nogales since the pandemic began. Many of the people who were in the city because of the Migrant Protection Protocols went early to Ciudad Juarez to await their court dates, all of which have been postponed. And those who have the option to do so have returned to their communities; they are able to make this decision, Esperanza says, both because it’s safe enough for them to go home and because they are able to afford the trip. In her case, she says, “Those who stay here don’t have money, and even more than that, it’s not safe for us to go back because of the risk. That’s why we remain here, with the hope and faith that all of this ends soon. And that a good solution comes soon, one that is worth all of our waiting.”
Occasionally, in the midst of the uncertainty and despair, Esperanza thinks about going home: “It’s hard. There are some days I lose hope, and I say to myself, I’m going back, what will happen to me will happen to me. But you can’t think only of yourself, you also have to think of your kids, and so it’s for them that I stay. I don’t want to return to the danger.” And she is motivated onward for the future life that she hopes is possible for her kids, and the family who is waiting for them in the United States. They remind her that good things will come again.