The Home of Mercy migrant shelter rules are listed on a poster taped to the wall: guest stays may not exceed a period of seventy-two hours; men are not permitted in the women’s dormitory; lights must be out at 10 PM; beds must be made every morning and the sleeping quarters must be swept regularly; guests are not allowed in the dormitories during the day; couples must refrain from any public display of affection. Etcetera. David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly plays on the television in the waiting area. Lupe, 39, from El Salvador and Rosaura, 47 from Guatemala lean forward to avoid making contact with the back of the couch and the inevitable layer of sweat that forms in the oppressive heat. A small oscillating fan balanced precariously on a chair in the corner stirs the heavy air. It’s too early for lunch. On the television, a horrified Gina Davis realizes she is pregnant with what could possibly be fly DNA. Shortly after, Jeff Goldblum vomits gallons of digestive enzymes onto Gina Davis’s boss and ex-boyfriend, played by John Getz.
-Esta mujer no tiene mucha suerte con los hombres, the American photographer says.
-Tenia un novio que andaba con otras mujeres. Otro que se le pegaba. Y ahora, este cabron que se esta convertiendo a ser una mosca. Que mala suerte! Lupe laughs. The photographer paces in front of the television. A large, black camera hangs from a strap around her neck. It looks expensive.
-Creo que hoy viene el tren – I think the train will be here today, says the photographer.
-Si, hoy viene, says Lupe.
Lupe was caught and deported near Tapachula on a previous attempt to reach the United States. Rosaura had made it all the way to Houston with a niece, but was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and sent back. Her niece currently lives in Houston.
-No tienen miedo – aren’t you afraid? The photographer asks. The women shrug.
-Ya no, Lupe says. Voy con un amigo.
Rosaura shakes her head: her boyfriend, Elvis and Lupe’s friend, Jose are staying in the men’s dorm.
-La primera vez, si, yo tenia mucho miedo – the first time I went, I was very scared, Lupe says.
Pero, ya no. Gracias a Dios, a mi no ha pasado nada. Nunca me robaron. Nunca fui asaltada – thank God, nothing’s ever happened to me. I’ve never been robbed. I’ve never been attacked.
-Y tu? No tienes miedo? Lupe asks the photographer.
The photographer shakes her head.
-Ya no, she says.
Around midday, a group of teenage boys, all from the same village in Honduras arrives. Hungry, sunburned, and exhausted, they had walked for ten days to reach Arriaga after crossing the Suchiate River – a distance of about 150 miles.
Later, two field agents from Grupo Beta make a routine visit to the shelter. Grupo Beta is an agency within Mexico’s National Immigration Institute created to provide protection and humanitarian aid to migrants. Unlike the Mexican police or Immigration officers, Grupo Beta agents do not enforce immigration laws, nor do they arrest or detain migrants. One agent makes his way around the room, taking down migrants’ names and nationalities. His partner hands out brochures illustrated with cartoon drawings offering safety and survival tips. Another pamphlet advises migrants of their legal rights. At first, some of the migrants are reluctant to be identified but one of the shelter workers reassures them that they have nothing to fear from Grupo Beta.
Angela America Perdomo, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Maria Guadalupe Hernandez, San Miguel, El Salvador
Jose Ramon Sanchez, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Rosaura Zuñiga Barrios, Huehuetenango, Guatemala
Elvis Ramon Perez, Huehuetenango, Guatemala
Jose Alberto Rivas, San Miguel, El Salvador
Michelle Frankfurter, Takoma Park, MD United States
This day, the train does not arrive.