One day last month, two brothers in this Oaxacan municipality of 160,000 abruptly told their wives that they would be leaving for the United States within the week.
Mariano and Begai Santiago Hipólito, both in their early 30s, were frustrated with their jobs as construction workers, an occupation where on a good week they might each make about $100.
They said they planned to travel to Georgia and return a few years later with enough money to better support their children. Their wives said they urged them to stay, reminding them of the tight-knit evangelical community they’d leave behind. But the brothers were adamant.
“He told me, I’m only going for two years, the time will go by quickly,” said Luz Estrella Cuevas Remolino, Mariano’s wife. “I’ll be back to be with you.”
On June 27, nine days after they set off, Cuevas was breastfeeding her son and watching television when she viewed a headline about a tragedy in San Antonio. Dozens of migrants had been found dead in an abandoned, sweltering tractor-trailer.
Mariano, she’d learn, had died. Begai, she was told, was in a hospital in grave condition.
It was one of the deadliest human-trafficking tragedies in U.S. history, with 53 victims who were most, if not all, from Mexico and Central America. Many were people who had lost hope for their futures in their hometowns and decided to risk a dangerous journey in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families.
Fatalities are common on the migrant trail. Many die trying to cross the desert, after having hired smugglers, or while climbing onto moving freight trains.
Advocates say that harsh border policies like Title 42, a rule invoked during the Trump administration that allows authorities to immediately expel migrants even if they say they are seeking asylum, have forced migrants on increasingly perilous routes.