After Luz cycled through jail and then immigration detention, she landed in Tijuana and sought refuge at the Instituto Madre Asunta, a shelter for migrant women, named for an Italian nun whose motto was “Amor sin fronteras” (love without borders). From the outside, the shelter, perched on a hill, has the look of an ordinary split-level middle-class house with an attached small cottage. The “cottage” is the recreation room, where a dozen women quietly watch and cringe at the evening news. On TV, a reporter describes the increasingly perilous journey for migrants, before moving on to a segment about a toddler who died from burns from a faulty electric blanket provided by a hospital. The mothers look away from the screen in dismay; one walks out.
In years past, the shelter served as a refuge for single northbound migrants, says director Mari Galvan, but after the 2001 attacks on the U.S., tighter border security made it difficult for fathers and husbands to come and go. Soon women with their children began arriving to join them up north. With deportation increasingly affecting parents, motives for migration have changed as well. “Now they stay here because they are trying to return to the U.S.; many are trying to reunite with their children,” says Galvan. She estimates that some 1,000 women arrive at the shelter every year, most of them mothers.