A group of women sit on a white wooden bench at Casa Del Migrante Amar in Nuevo Laredo, chatting and eating fruit on a blistering hot summer day.
More than 100 migrants are at the shelter. Some are from Central America and others come from across Latin America.
One of the women, Magda, fled Venezuela’s oppressive regime. On her way to Nuevo Laredo, she heard stories about the area being dangerous. The day after she arrived, she was robbed.
“It’s difficult to be in a situation where you’re looking for security for yourself and you’re still in the same difficult situation you were in back home,” said Magda in Spanish.
Another woman, Ruth, fled domestic violence in Peru.
Both women declined to give their last names because they fear for their safety in this border city. She said she’s seen people patrolling the streets near the shelter, who she suspects are lookouts for gangs and cartels.
Ruth said she rarely leaves the shelter because she’s scared of what lies beyond these walls.
“We’ve heard of kidnappings that have taken place closeby,” said Ruth in Spanish. “Sometimes people come ask if we want to work, but it’s scary because you never know where they’re going to take you because you don’t know if it’s someone you can trust or if they’ll hurt you.”
Both women face a tough road ahead in trying to win asylum in the U.S. and it got even tougher this week with the Trump’s administration’s latest policy announcement. The new policy requires that migrants first apply for asylum in another country.
Like other policy changes, this one is being challenged in court and is widely expected to be blocked, at least initially.
Magda said she doesn’t know what to think.
“It’s been psychologically draining,” she said. “The news. This yes, this no, it’s like, yes, no, do I stay, or do I leave, what do I do? It’s like, kill me here because I can’t do this anymore. Kill me here because I can’t return to my country.”
According to data from Doctors Without Borders, almost half of the patients they’ve worked with in Nuevo Laredo this year have been the victim of violence. The organization also said their patients experience anxiety, depression and PTSD.
On top of that, migrants are dealing with the complex US asylum system, said Karen, a Mexican social worker with Doctors Without Borders who works at several migrant shelters in Nuevo Laredo. She asked that Texas Public Radio not use her last name because of security concerns.
“They know that they are in a process, but they don’t actually know how it works, what are the steps, or what is going to happen when they have their day in court, what do they need to bring,” said Karen.
She said she was based at Mexico’s southern border and has seen firsthand the mental and physical toll the journey of traveling through Mexico takes on migrants.
“It’s the beginning and they bring a lot of hopes, dreams and wishes. When they cross the southern border they face a lot of things like robberies, sexual violence,” said Karen. “At that moment they still want to keep going and then they face the trip, the travel, the accidents and they are continually going forward and forward and forward and when they come to the last step they bring all the things that they carry from the south.”
Karen points to another new Trump administration policy that requires asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until their court date in the U.S.
The so-called Remain in Mexico policy just expanded to Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo.
US officials are only allowing a few asylum seekers to cross at ports of entry each day. When it’s finally Ruth and Magda’s turn, they could be returned right back to Nuevo Laredo.
Ruth, for one, still plans to stick it out because she said she has no other choice.
“In reality, we don’t know what new laws the President is going to implement,” she said. “The only thing we want is a security in our lives.”
For now, they’re stuck in one of the most dangerous regions of the world, which the State Department advises Americans not to travel to.
Nuevo Laredo is in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Alongside Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, Tamaulipas is on the State Department's “Do Not Travel” list because murder, carjackings, extortion and sexual assault are so common.
“They’re making us wait in an unsafe country when we ourselves are trying to escape violence so we can try to feel safe in another country,” said Ruth. “Here, we don’t feel safe.”