The black shadows of yucca shrubs huddled under a three-quarter moon. A stiff desert wind hushed all but the deafening crunch of footsteps where a chest-high barrier divides the US and Mexico.
Behind María and her son were the thousands of miles they covered overland from Guatemala, with Mexico streaming by the bus window, day and night. On the way, she broke her ankle but pressed on with few stops.
Then came the last leg: the night crossing into the New Mexico Bootheel. The state’s rugged, remote south-western corner was where seven-year-old Guatemalan girl Jakelin Caal crossed with her father one December night and became gravely ill.
Her death earlier this month became the symbol of a dangerous new pattern of human smuggling through New Mexico, where 20 groups of more than 100 migrants each have arrived since October, a massive increase from just eight large groups in all of fiscal 2018, according to US Customs and Border Protection. A record number are asking for asylum in the US.