The dividing line

On the U.S.-Mexico border, President Biden faces a political crisis. Migrants face a fight to survive.

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This is the place where two worlds collide. The desperation of Central American migrants and the politics of the United States.

Migration has surged to its highest level in years, driven by violence, poverty — and hopes for a new U.S. president.

“Those folks are in their houses, at least they have bread to eat, they are eating well, they know what they are going to do every day. Not us. We have to see where we can find food to eat, who gets to sleep in the bed and who’s on the floor. They discriminate against us without understanding how much we are suffering.” — Ángela from Honduras

“In our case, it’s Russian roulette. We die if we try, and we die if we don’t. In my country, the crime is very extreme: rapes, femicides, homicides, suicides. Because, with the president we have — and it’s not just the president, municipal authorities and congresspeople are involved. In my case, I had to flee because they had already tried to assassinate me.” — Elin López from Honduras

Mexican traffickers transport families over the Rio Grande on rafts. The migrants leave a trail of possessions behind.

Hidalgo County deputy constable: “Don’t run, don’t run, we’re coming to help you, don’t run. Are you people together? Did she come with you?

Woman: “No, I came alone.”

Deputy constable: “How old are you?”

Woman: “30”

Deputy constable: “30?”

“It kind of does make you think a little bit because if I were in that situation we encounter a lot of small children that come alone without their parents, and I wouldn’t send my kids alone like that.” — Roque Vela, Hidalgo County deputy constable

The Biden administration is expelling most of the migrants, as President Donald Trump did. But Mexico’s shelters are filling up, and it’s refusing to take back some families.

Pastor Juan Fierro runs the Good Samaritan shelter in Ciudad Juárez. He’s worried.

“This is causing chaos on the border, because [migrants] are moving from one border crossing to another, thinking that at this spot they can pass. And they come here, although people are being expelled here from El Paso. People don’t realize it, that they’re sending them back here, and they cross over and then they’re expelled back here … they come here, and they think that they’ve gotten into the United States. And when they are least aware, suddenly they’re back in Mexico again.” — Pastor Juan Fierro

Central America was lashed by two deadly hurricanes in November. Jobs dried up during the pandemic. Violence is rampant. Hunger is growing.

“I am from Honduras, San Pedro Sula. I decided to come because of the pandemic, the hurricanes, because in Honduras we were very affected, left without houses, lots of people had to sleep beneath bridges because the houses were destroyed, destroyed, they flooded, were dragged away. Thank God we are alive, and that’s why I decided to come.” — Ingrid Posas López from Honduras

The government’s emergency authority to expel most Central American migrants — under Title 42 — will expire as the pandemic eases. The Biden administration’s border challenge may only intensify.

Arelis Hernández contributed to this report.

About this story

Editing by Reem Akkad. Design and development by Jake Crump and Irfan Uraizee. Photo editing by Chloe Coleman and Karly Domb Sadof. Audio editing by Linah Mohammad.

Michael Robinson Chávez, a staff photographer, recently won a Pulitzer Prize awarded to The Washington Post Staff for 2C: Beyond the Limit, a deep look at global climate change. In 2018 he was awarded a Robert F. Kennedy Award for coverage of problems created by the drug trade plaguing Mexico.
Mary Beth Sheridan is a correspondent covering Mexico and Central America for The Washington Post. Her previous foreign postings include Rome; Bogota, Colombia; and a five-year stint in Mexico in the 1990s. She has also covered immigration, homeland security and diplomacy for The Post, and served as deputy foreign editor from 2016 to 2018.