Maureen Meyer, Hannah Smith, and I spent the third week of February in and around Tenosique, Mexico. We were in Mexico’s far south, by the border with Petén, Guatemala. We visited migrant shelters, which were busy, though emptier than before Trump’s inauguration. We heard grim accounts of the violence Central Americans were fleeing. We spoke to authorities about security, attacks on migrants, and U.S. aid programs.
Three years later, the La 72 shelter we saw in February 2017 was much different. Not only is it larger—with the support of donations and the UNHCR, Fray Tomás and his staff have built new dormitories, a health post, and other facilities to meet demand—it looked like a day-care center.
Children raced around paved courtyards and walkways, playing tag and make-believe. (As they ran past, a six-year-old confronted by a smaller child waving a stick like a saber conjured a “wall of Donald Trump” as an imaginary shield.) Babies and toddlers sat on their mothers’ laps. Teenagers played basketball, flirted, and stood around a muralsized map of Mexico and its train lines. (Three of them told us that they were going to try entering the United States via Mexicali, one of the farthest possible routes, on the unfounded belief that they faced a lower risk of being robbed or kidnapped.) Entire families, some with elderly relatives, sat at tables, talking and fanning themselves in the shade. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of children (both accompanied and unaccompanied) apprehended by INM agents in the state of Tabasco increased by 60 percent.