On May 21, 2000, Enrique waits with two other migrants, a Mexican brother and sister, at the beginning of the journey across the river with El Tiríndaro. On the other side of the river, a U.S. Border Patrol tower aims its cameras out over the water, and patrol vehicles move across the far riverbank in the night The three migrants all strip down to their underwear and pack their clothes into plastic bags to keep them dry. El Tiríndaro loads the two Mexicans into a tube and brings them to a small island in the middle of the river. He then comes back for Enrique. The Rio Grande, called the Rio Bravo at this location, is dangerous. The current is strong and there are whirlpools. Nazario notes that fifty-four migrants have died this year alone trying to cross the Rio Bravo at this spot. Enrique cannot swim and, terrified, grips onto the tube. As they cross the river, an SUV flashing red and blue lights is visible. Finally they arrive at the island safely. From the SUV, agents shine spotlights on the island. Everyone huddles on the ground and waits.
Finally, so close to the United States, the journey is more treacherous than ever. The dangers of the river combined with the increase in security makes for a perilous trip across the river. El Tiríndaro protects and leads Enrique well, but it is notable just how absolutely dependent Enrique is on El Tiríndaro at this point: unable to swim in the middle of a river, the money having already been wired—it would be easy for someone less trustworthy then El Tiríndaro to just betray Enrique and take his money.
Nazario reports that if caught, authorities can deport migrants back to their home countries. First, though, they usually send them, in shackles to a Texas jail, where the conditions are extremely poor, few of the guards speak Spanish, and the migrant children are held for an indeterminate amount of time. Many become desperate and even suicidal. As Enrique waits, his mind fills with dread about what could happen. But after half an hour, the agents depart, and El Tiríndaro takes the migrants across the rest of the river. Enrique is standing on U.S. soil, but El Tiríndaro quickly leads them to a freezing, sewage-filled, tributary of the river so that they won’t be seen by Border Patrol. They dress quickly in the dry clothes from their plastic bags, and El Tiríndaro gives them a bit of food. Then he leads them, running over a steep embankment until they reach a residential street.
The book has captured Enrique and his reasons for immigrating, illegally, to the United States: love, and perhaps a desire for a better life. On his trip, Enrique has not stolen, has not harmed anyone. In fact, he has been stolen from and physically harmed. That the child migrants who are captured are brought to jails in shackles, though, makes clear that the child migrants, once caught in the US, are treated as criminals. And in many ways they are in even a worse position than criminals, as they can’t communicate because of the language barrier, have no family to help them, and they have no idea how long they will be kept. Such conditions, as Nazario shows, lead to despair, as the children themselves only want to be reunited with their mothers or parents.
As they reach the street, a Chevy Blazer that has been waiting for them flashes its lights. They jump in, and are greeted by a man and woman who are contacts of El Tiríndaro's in his network of smugglers. The vehicle has pillows in the back, and Enrique soon falls asleep sleeps, but is woken when they are approaching a checkpoint. The migrants have to get out of the car, walk around the checkpoint, and get back in the car on the other side. Once back in the car, Enrique again falls asleep. When he wakes up, El Tiríndaro has left. The driver takes him to a house where he changes into American clothing and calls his mother.
El Tiríndaro's network is organized and prepared—they operate as a well-oiled machined, a slick business. It is hard to believe that Enrique passes the final checkpoint, after such a long journey. He cannot process anything right now; all he can do is sleep. The trip has been stressful, frightening, and draining. But it is not over. He will not be satisfied until he sees his mother.
In North Carolina, Lourdes, worried sick about Enrique, waits to hear from her son. She has not been able to sleep and has spent the night praying for his safety. She receives a call from the female smuggler asking for $500 more than the original price. Skeptical, Lourdes asks to speak to Enrique. When she has confirmation that he is there, she wires the money. The smugglers take Enrique to Orlando, where Lourdes' boyfriend picks him up. On the morning of May 28th, having traveled over 12,000 miles over 122 days, Enrique rushes into his mother’s trailer, where she is in bed, and embraces her.
Even as the smuggling of Enrique into the country is successful, the family is still at the mercy of the smugglers, who extract every ounce of value they can from those who are dependent on them. Yet Lourdes is able and willing to pay that price in order to see her son (which, of course, is why the smugglers demand it).
Nazario reflects on Enrique's journey and points out that his story is real, not fictional. Though stories typically end with reunions that lead to peace and joy, and many children in his situation dream of reuniting with their mothers, the reality of the reunion is not always as they imagine. Children often feel resentment for being abandoned as well as resentment toward the new families their mothers have formed, while their mother often want recognition for the sacrifice they made in leaving in the first place. The children, after an initial period, sometimes end up turning to drugs, early marriages, or join gangs.
Nazario's interjection here helps to bring this larger than life story back down to earth. Her direct voice enforces her point about the frequent difficulties of families reuniting. As Nazario here explains, the pain and resentments of abandonment are not magically “healed” by getting re-united. Reuniting leads to a kind of honeymoon period, but the pain of abandonment, and its consequences, takes more time and effort to overcome.
Enrique and Lourdes fit this pattern. The first day is joyful, just as they expected. They talk about family and watch television. Enrique gets a job as a house painter, and buys gifts for his half-sister Diana. Soon, however, he and Lourdes begin to argue. She pushes him to learn English, while he doesn’t want her telling him what to do. Another day, one of Lourdes’s roommates rejects a collect call from Maria Isabel. Enrique, furious, packs to leave. A tremendous fight with Lourdes ensues, and he ends up spending the night in a cemetery. It doesn’t take long for them to make up, but the tensions persist.
Though Enrique and Lourdes are thrilled to be together, the tension between them rises pretty quickly. Enrique, in making his journey to his mother, has had to be resourceful and independent. Now suddenly his mother (who he still feels abandoned him) is telling him what to do. Further, the relatively impoverished life situation of recent immigrants only exacerbates tensions. Enrique had once thought that all of his problems would be solved once he found his idealized mother. But, of course, that isn’t true. That they reconcile shows their love for each other, but they will need a different kind of persistence to rebuild their relationship.
Not long after, on a phone call back home, Enrique learns that Maria Isabel is pregnant. On November 2, 2000, she gives birth to their daughter, Katerin Jasmin. Maria Isabel and Enrique decide that when they can afford it she should come to the United States and leave the baby in the care of her aunt, so that she can help send money home to support Jasmin.
Abandonment leads to abandonment leads to abandonment. Again, the book shows how abandonment is not an event, it is a cycle, driven by external forces that make these impossible choices necessary to make.