Each time, a coyote helped them scale the border barrier up the Mexico side using a rope ladder, and they slithered down a beam to the California side. Each time, they were promptly arrested by the Border Patrol.
To avoid being placed for weeks or months in a shelter, as is happening with the thousands of young asylum-seekers crossing the border, the boys lied about their ages, telling the agents they were 18. As presumed adults, they were fingerprinted and quickly dropped back in Mexico — to try again.
Over the border wall, and back again
Since peaking in the early 2000s, Mexican immigration to the United States had cratered as family sizes shrank, the Mexican economy expanded and crossings became more perilous and expensive. Between 2009 and 2014, more Mexicans left than arrived in the United States for the first time since the 1940s, drawing the curtain on the biggest immigration wave in modern American history.
But the dynamic has changed since the coronavirus struck.
Ms. Mendoza, who was in the Expedition with her cousin, was a single mother who tried to provide for her three daughters by selling tamales and weaving hats in Tlapa de Comonfort, a mountainous region of Guerrero that has long sent migrants to the United States.
They had no refrigerator, stove or television. And the pandemic had made eking out a living even more difficult.
“What I wanted was to buy a plot of land, build a little house,” Ms. Mendoza said. “I told my daughters, ‘I am doing this for you,’ and they agreed I should go.”
She stuffed some pesos and two changes of clothes in a backpack and boarded a bus to Mexicali with her cousin, Ms. Garcia. Three days later, they checked into one of the seedy hotels a few blocks from the international border that cater to migrants, paying 220 pesos, or about $ 10, for a 24-hour stay.
Miriam Jordan and Ariana Drehsler