On the 15th day of their journey, Joel Eduardo Espinar and his family were hurting. And they still had a country to traverse before they got to the United States.
A little more than two weeks before, they had fled Honduras and joined the migrant caravan of Central Americans snaking toward the border. Now, they assembled in the 3 a.m. darkness by a southern Mexico highway.
Jason, 11, complained of stomach pains as he lay on the highway’s shoulder. His 12-year-old sister Tifany Diana sat beside him, her head between her knees. The baby, Eduardo, was in his stroller, burning with fever, his eyes watery and his nose running. Espinar’s wife, Yamilet Hernandez, could not shake a nagging cough and sore throat.
The Honduran farmer and his wife watched dozens of fellow travelers scramble to board trucks that stopped to help their caravan. Hundreds of others had already left on foot, starting out at 2 a.m. to get an early start on what would be the most ambitious single-day trek since they crossed into Mexico, setting their sights for reaching Arriaga, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) up the coast.
Violent area of violent country
The family came from La Conce in Olancho, one of the most violent areas in one of Latin America’s most violent countries — for more than two decades, a drug-trafficking hub with warring gangs. Four of Espinar’s friends died from stabbings, and his wife was robbed twice at knifepoint on her way home from the stand where she sold rosquillas, a traditional Honduran snack made of cornmeal and cheese.
In every way, it grew harder and harder to survive there. Espinar, 27, grew up in La Conce, leaving the fifth grade to work with his father cultivating watermelons bound for the U.S. But in the past two years, prices had shot up and it was becoming impossible to raise his children on his 1,500 Honduran Lempira ($62) weekly salary.
Tifany Diana had to drop out of school for lack of tuition. Jason never went. His wife sold their television to buy food.
Yamilet, 37, inquired about getting a U.S. visa from a friend who got one and realized she would not qualify. They owned no land, had no bank account and no stable work.
A breaking point
Then the couple’s neighbor and close friend was shot by a stray bullet while sleeping next to her 4-year-old son. Three days later, a Honduran TV news station reported that a caravan for migrants was heading to the U.S. The report said hundreds had joined and they would be arriving at Santa Rosa de Coapan.
Within hours of hearing the news, Espinar bought five bus tickets.
The family arrived at Santa Rosa de Coapan at 3 a.m. They walked seven hours with the caravan to the Guatemalan border with Mexico and slept on the international bridge.
They were caught in a downpour that drenched their clothes. A Guatemalan immigration official gave them an Ozark Trail tent to get out of the rain. It would become their home for the next two weeks when they would pitch it in the plazas of Mexican towns that welcomed a caravan that had grown to several thousand as they inched forward.
They tossed everything they had packed from home because the items were too wet to carry, but people along their route gave them new clothes, backpacks, strollers, plastic sandals and a green ball that Jason kicked as they walked.
But the walking was tough. Seven hours one day. Five hours the next. They slept only a few hours, rising well before dawn to beat the heat.
On Day 15, after missing most of the caravan, they set out on foot again along the moonlight route shortly after 3 a.m.
By 7 a.m., after four hours of walking, they reached a Mexican immigration checkpoint and stopped to rest. The temperature was reaching 80 degrees. Hundreds of the migrants were lined up for bags of water and sandwiches being handed out by locals wanting to help.
Others were jumping on trucks that offered rides. Yamilet decided there was no way to make it on foot. She found a cargo truck where the migrants helped load the strollers, one with Eduardo still in it, and the two other children. They huddled in the back with more than 100 people. The driver left the back door open, so they wouldn’t suffocate.
After two hours, they were dropped off in the outskirts of Arriaga. And an hour later, they walked into the main plaza. They used their two strollers to stake out a tiny spot on the artificial turf of a playground to pitch their tent and collapsed in the 104-degree heat. They slept for three hours.
?Tightening border rules
Espinar had heard the Trump administration was tightening the restrictions on the types of cases that can qualify someone for asylum, making it harder for Central Americans who say they’re fleeing the threat of gangs or drug smugglers to pass even the first hurdle for securing U.S. protection. He has heard, too, that President Donald Trump was sending troops to the U.S. border to confront the caravan.
His plan is to request asylum rather than cross the border illegally.
“I’m kind of fearful of what will happen once we get to the U.S. border,” he said.
His brother, who now lives in Miami with an ankle monitor while his own asylum case proceeds, said he would pray for him. Byron Espinar knows that Trump could try to block the way.
“But God is bigger, and we are with God,” he said.