Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

Work and motherhood amidst the border violence

Multiple tragedies haven't stopped this teen mother from forging a new life for her family on the US-Mexico border

6 May 2022, 6.00am

Graffiti in Juárez, Mexico


Fernando Loera. All rights reserved

Advisory: this story contains depictions of violence.


It wasn’t my idea to try to cross the border into the US. It was a friend’s. She said, ‘Let’s go see what’s in the hills.’ I didn’t want to but she insisted. She said somebody had told her how to do it. So we went. We laughed all the way.

I got scared when it got dark. I didn’t know the area and was afraid we could get lost, or that someone would jump out and do something to us. It’s very dangerous up there. So I started joking that we should let US Immigration catch us.

Then they did. When my friend first saw them coming she started to run. I ran after her but we didn’t get very far. They caught us, asked us a bunch of questions, and then put us in a car and took us to an office. After a little while they brought us to the bridge to be picked up. They treated us well.

My mother grounded me for two months after that. She said we were crazy, but it made me laugh. You know, near where I live lots of people cross or work smuggling other people. They’re mostly young – 15 to 20 years old. It’s part of life here.

I’d like to build something that I can leave for my kids.

I finished middle school but I was already four months pregnant with my son when I started high school. It became very difficult to do the activities so I dropped out. We also had to save up for the birth. It cost about 12,000 pesos (US$600), and we had to sell our stove and fridge to get the money.

I have two children now: a baby daughter and a two-year-old son. The boy’s father is dead. Some men came by his house one day looking for one of his friends. The guy wasn’t there, but the men still shot my ex-boyfriend and both his parents before they left.

I now live with my parents. I haven’t worked since my daughter was born and that’s been causing problems. My dad says that since I don’t have a job I need to wash their clothes, cook for all of them, etc. I help them of course but he wants me to do more than I’m able to. My mom defends me. She tells him he can’t talk to me like that, that she’s there to do the things that he’s wanting me to do. In moments like that he talks about kicking us all out. My mom is the one who helps me the most. She even stopped work at the maquiladora (assembly factory) to help me take care of the children.

I’ve worked since I was 14. I started as a waitress, but left because my shifts were ending really late. I then worked at Movistar (a mobile phone provider) for a year, offering promotions and trying to get people to switch. I got fired because of the pandemic, but I really liked that job. I got to be outside and work with a friend. He’s dead too now. He was crossing the street when somebody started shooting at a car. A bullet hit him in the face.

My boyfriend and I would like to get a place, but he doesn’t earn much and we have two children to take care of. He finished high school with an apprenticeship in construction, but right now he’s working as a builder fixing a house. I would like to live on my own and start studying again. I’d like to finish high school, get a job to help my partner, and build something that I can leave for my kids. I don’t want them to struggle like I have.

This story is part of a series of testimonies from children and mothers living in Ciudad Juárez, on the US-Mexico border. The children were all caught crossing into the US, either to pursue personal aspirations or to smuggle people, and are now receiving restorative justice services from the NGO Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción. The testimonies were prepared alongside DHIA's advocates and have been edited for clarity. The illustration of the speaker is a fictitious rendering produced by Carys Boughton (All rights reserved). The speaker's name has also been changed.

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