A woman stuck in no man’s land south of the border

Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen

(This series features people I have met on my travels who want to get to the U.S., or have been deported from the U.S. Names have been changed. They would only share their stories with me under the condition of anonymity. I do not support illegal activity in any way – I simply am sharing migrants’ stories.)

Ana didn’t want to go back to her country when I met her in Mexico. Too much crime, and no work for decent money. She was also keen to find her husband – her American husband – but she wasn’t sure how to do that.

Can you help me find him? she asked me in Spanish. She didn’t know any English. I hardly knew this woman, but I knew a little Spanish, and she knew I’m an American.

Ana said she wasn’t sure if her husband was alive. She could not believe he would not try to reach her. The contact information he had given her no longer worked.

Ana got upset as she showed me pictures of her romance with this man, who was in her home country for an extended period of time. She showed me wedding pictures. He was her second husband. (She wouldn’t say what happened to her first husband.) She also showed me pictures of her new husband smiling at the camera with her children and her extended family, group shots taken at various moments – a party, a date, just a plain-old-regular day. Ana also had a few copies of papers from the start of her visa process.

She said her husband returned to the U.S. with a plan to start the legal work to bring Ana to him. And for a short time, they worked towards that goal. But then he vanished — and she never heard from him again. Weeks turned into months. A year.

So, as a woman with no real prospects for good income, no security for her children in her home country, Ana headed north with her two children and a man who also wanted to get out of their home country for his own reasons. Women traveling alone through Central American countries is not safe, she said, especially with children. It is best to travel with a man.

“Hay demasiada violencia en mi pais,” too much violence in my country, and I don’t want my kids there, she said.

Ana, her children, and the man needed money – a place to sleep and some regular meals after their weary and dangerous trek north. The adults worked off the books because they were not legally allowed to work in Mexico. They were ready to cut and run at any time. They didn’t take public transportation because they feared discovery – and that could mean a Mexican jail, a bus back home, or both. Ana’s children couldn’t go to school, so they stayed close to their temporary home.

The group lived in one room at the top of a narrow staircase. There was not much privacy, but it was clean and tidy. There was one bed, a few hooks for hammocks, a table, a dresser, a bathroom with running water. I saw older suitcases stacked in the closet when Ana opened the door to return the documents and photos she had.

They made enough money to buy food and to save some pesos for the trip further north.

A view of San Diego County from the Mexican side of the border fence.

That is, if they decided they would try to go further north – over the U.S. border. It was a gamble – a huge, risky, dangerous gamble. They hadn’t made the decision on what to do when I talked with them. They were relatively safe for that moment in Mexico, with enough food to eat, running water, and a place to sleep. There were worse places to be.

It’s not fair, Ana said. She didn’t understand where her husband was, and she only wanted to find him. ‘He married me and said he would help get me to America. To his home.’ She said it wasn’t fair she could not easily and legally cross the border to find him, again hoping he was alive and ok. She cried. She said she didn’t know what to think.

I later found the man she married. It wasn’t too hard to track him down. He was living in New York. I reached out to him twice. He never responded. I never saw Ana again.

She no longer lives and works where I met her, her children, and their friend. I do not know if she was ever able to contact her husband, or where they went after I left that area of Mexico.

Information from the State Department on how foreign spouses can legally land in the U.S. can be found here.

Read the first story in the migrant series:

A former dairy worker deported to Mexico

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