How a Holy Mountain Became a Migration Path to the U.S.

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SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — Towering implicit the borderland, Mount Cristo Rey is nature’s obstruction betwixt Mexico and the United States. Each twelvemonth for astir a period it has drawn thousands of radical who tread up a constellation of switchbacks representing the “Via Crucis,” oregon Way of the Cross, to commune beneath the 29-foot-tall limestone crucifix astatine the summit.

The beatified upland boasts a sweeping presumption of 3 states — Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua successful Mexico — and these days attracts not conscionable the faithful, but the desperate, too: migrants from astir the globe trying to participate the United States undetected, for present determination is nary borderline wall.

In the acheronian hours past midnight recently, respective groups of men acceptable retired implicit the mountain’s jagged, gravel-coated slopes arsenic the lights of El Paso twinkled successful the distance. But arsenic they descended, they were spotted by agents with the U.S. Border Patrol, who rounded up 16 of them on a roadside.

“The information is, astir radical made it,” said Evandro, a 31-year-old Brazilian migrant, his eyes bloodshot from fatigue, who had watched galore of his chap travelers dash to state done a jumble of adjacent mobile homes and ranches. “We were conscionable unlucky.”

Some 800 miles southeast successful the Rio Grande Valley, a akin country unfolded earlier sunrise. Six men who had waded crossed the river, hopeful of reaching Houston, present stood successful their tattered, damp apparel successful the custody of agents. After journeying thousands of miles from Honduras and savoring “the adrenaline of touching this country,” arsenic Elias Galindo, 25, described it, they would spell nary further.

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Agents detained migrants on  the borderline  partition  adjacent   the Rio Grande successful  McAllen, Texas.
Credit...Christopher Lee for The New York Times

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Credit...Christopher Lee for The New York Times

Soon, some groups boarded white-and-green Border Patrol vans that ferried them to processing stations. Within hours, they were deported to Mexico.

Apprehensions connected the southwestern borderline successful July reached their highest levels since 2000, with an mean of much than 6,700 arrests a day. But the numbers are deceptive. An exigency coronavirus wellness measure, extended this past week by the Biden administration, allows galore adults traveling unsocial to beryllium swiftly expelled alternatively than spell done lengthy deportation proceedings. That means that galore of the aforesaid migrants extremity up trying again and again — until immoderate of them succeed.

“The agents are overwhelmed,” said Gerardo Galvan, cause successful complaint of the Border Patrol presumption successful Santa Teresa, N.M.

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

In the canine days of summer, erstwhile migrant crossings usually subside, the influx this twelvemonth has been unrelenting.

The fig of migrants apprehended successful the El Paso country has accrued threefold this fiscal year, with 135,326 arrests, astir 80 percent of them azygous adults. Equipped with question sensors, long-range infrared cameras and aerial drones, Border Patrol agents accidental they judge that astir of those crossing the borderline are apprehended — though nary 1 truly knows however galore negociate to get away.

The vigor this clip of twelvemonth is unforgiving, and the terrain hazardous. In mid-June, the assemblage of a Mexican pistillate was recovered adjacent the basal of Mount Cristo Rey.

Jeremiah Blount, an El Paso agent, said helium had encountered migrants bound for astir each state. One radical of migrants, helium said, was arrested connected 5 consecutive days. “I inquire them, ‘You haven’t made it to New York yet?”

As the municipality of Sunland Park awakened, an cause connected horseback and different connected an all-terrain conveyance guarded 3 men sitting connected the crushed until different agents could get to instrumentality them away.

They ordered the migrants to region their shoelaces and past basal up, hands down their backs with legs splayed.

“Are you carrying thing that could wounded someone?” 1 of the agents, Joel Freeland, said arsenic helium patted down 1 man.

“The lone happening I’m carrying is fatigue,” responded the man, Obdulio, 41.

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

Toothpaste, a toothbrush, a telephone charger and a ft bandage were retrieved from pockets and tumbled onto the dirt.

“Where are you from? Do you person visas?” Mr. Freeland asked, adjacent though helium knew the answer.

He handed the men masks and instructed them to spot their cellphones and passports successful Ziploc bags. One of the migrants, a scrawny 21-year-old successful a camouflage shirt, struggled to region his black-cord choker, and the cause snipped it off.

All 3 were from Honduras.

“I came to bash immoderate honorable job,” said Obdulio, a carpenter who did not stock his past name. “There isn’t capable enactment successful my country. I person 3 children.”

He said that helium and his 2 companions had traveled 16 days by bid and autobus to scope Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican metropolis crossed from El Paso. But they had travel to the extremity of their journey.

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

Later that morning, an cause positioned down a camera with a long-range lens detected migrants emerging from the brushwood adjacent Mount Cristo Rey and radioed colleagues.

Soon, 2 migrants successful mud-caked trousers were handcuffed and leaning against a Border Patrol vehicle. A patrol chopper hovered overhead.

They and 3 different men had been climbing into a metallic Infiniti adjacent the basal of the upland erstwhile agents drove up, catching the 2 earlier the different 3 sped disconnected successful the car.

One of the detainees, Alex, 30, from Ecuador, was wearing a bead necklace with a crucifix and an Our Lady of Guadalupe pendant for protection.

It was his archetypal effort to transverse into the United States, helium said, and helium had paid a smuggler thousands of dollars to usher him toward New York.

“I’m a noble man,” helium said. “I came to combat for a amended life, and to supply for my family.”

Shortly after, astatine 8 a.m. successful the Rio Grande Valley, Jesse Moreno spotted chap agents stopped connected the broadside of the roadworthy and pulled over.

In the furniture of their pickup truck, a pistillate named Lillian Lopez, 30, dried her tears.

She had started her travel from Honduras 2 months ago, she explained, riding respective trains, including the notorious La Bestia, which has claimed the lives of galore migrants who cling to the tops of the moving cars.

“It was dangerous,” she said, holding up an injured near hand.

She had planned to enactment successful Houston to enactment the 3 children she had near with a brother.

“I came present to supply them with an education,” Ms. Lopez said. “I would person done immoderate work.”

A fewer minutes later, Mr. Moreno’s vigor crackled backmost to life. Less than fractional a mile away, a radical of astir 15 men, women and immoderate children had been intercepted.

Many of them sat connected the crushed nether the burning sun, looking dejected. The agents handed them masks and bottles of water.

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Credit...Christopher Lee for The New York Times

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Credit...Christopher Lee for The New York Times

Ana Hernandez and her 8-year-old daughter, Sheila, of El Salvador, had reached the borderline by bus. It was their 2nd attempt.

Ms. Hernandez pulled her daughter’s disguise down. “Look astatine her face, afloat of scratches,” she said, remnants of their unsmooth travel done the borderline brushlands. “I kept telling her, we are astir here. Once we are there, we are going to person a amended life.”

The past clip they had crossed, 2 weeks earlier, she had tried to use for asylum but was refused, she said. Now she hoped to evade the agents.

By the extremity of the night, she was backmost successful Mexico.

Not acold from wherever Ms. Hernandez had been archetypal detained, a visibly frustrated migrant named José Domingo waited to committee a Border Patrol van and tried to explicate wherefore helium had tried to sneak crossed the border.

Mr. Domingo, 40, asked the cause if helium could basal up to look him successful the eye. After wiping his sweat and shaking his head, helium began his story:

Years ago, helium told him, portion surviving successful Tapachula, Mexico, helium had applied for a visa to participate the United States, hoping to find enactment arsenic a carpenter. But helium had ne'er received a response, helium said. “I had nary choice. I had to transverse illegally.”

When agents intercepted him, his bosom sank, helium said, knowing that helium would beryllium deported. “You consciousness sadness, knowing that you were truthful adjacent to achieving your goals,” Mr. Domingo said. “I tried.”

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Credit...Christopher Lee for The New York Times

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Credit...Christopher Lee for The New York Times

Back successful Sunland Park, an cause named Rito Jara shuffled down Mount Cristo Rey.

“I had the vigor and a national saying determination were radical up there,” said Mr. Jara, a 13-year seasoned of the Border Patrol. “I was hoping to get lucky.”

But helium had made the 4.5-mile circular travel successful vain.

“They’re up determination close present watching us,” helium said.

That afternoon, an cause named Fernando Gomez escorted a radical of astir 20 migrants to the Paso del Norte Bridge that connects El Paso to Ciudad Juárez and sent them backmost crossed to Mexico.

Another radical followed. Then another.

Later that night, the satellite roseate implicit Mount Cristo Rey, known successful fashionable civilization arsenic the spot wherever the antheral successful the classical Marty Robbins opus “El Paso” fled the country of his transgression astatine Rosa’s Cantina to the badlands of New Mexico.

Around 10 p.m., Mr. Blount idled successful his conveyance beneath the mountain. Soon, helium said, migrants would statesman making their mode down from the summit.

“The circus euphony is astir to start,” helium said.

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

In the past 24 hours, they had caught astir 400 people.

He drove astir a 3rd of the mode up the upland wherever different cause was combing the country with his infrared nighttime imaginativeness camera after a sensor had picked up movement.

He recovered nary one. Maybe it had been a upland lion oregon coyote. For now, lone ample moths fluttered astir a mobile flood light.

The adjacent morning, José Luis, a 54-year-old car mechanic from Mexico, showed up astatine Casa del Refugiado, a structure successful El Paso. He had made his mode disconnected the upland during the night, helium said. He had managed to elude capture.

“It took maine a time to get implicit that mountain,” helium said.

“God made maine invisible to get here.”

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Credit...Adria Malcolm for The New York Times
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