The Oaxaca community is praying for two brothers – one dead, one alive – who were in the San Antonio trailer.

One day last month, two brothers from this Oaxaca municipality of 160,000 suddenly told their wives that they were leaving for the United States in a week.

Mariano and Begay Santiago Hipólito, in their early 30s, were disappointed with their jobs as construction workers, a profession where in a good week each of them can earn about $100.

They said they planned to go to Georgia and return in a few years with enough money to better support their children. Their wives said they urged them to stay, reminding them of the conservative evangelical community they would leave behind. But the brothers were adamant.

“He told me I was only going for two years, the time will fly by quickly,” said Luz Estrella Cuevas Remolino, Mariano’s wife. “I’ll be back to be with you.”

On June 27, nine days after leaving, Cuevas was breastfeeding her son and watching TV when she saw a headline about the San Antonio tragedy. Dozens migrants found dead in an abandoned, stuffy tractor-trailer.

She learned that Mariano had died. Run, as she was told, is in the hospital in serious condition.

woman in the house

Luz Estrella Cuevas Remolino in her bedroom where she first saw the coverage of the tragedy.

(Eva Lepis / For The Times)

It was one of the deadliest human trafficking tragedies in US history, with 53 victims, most if not all of them from Mexico and Central America. Many of them lost hope for their future in their hometowns and decided to take risks and embark on a perilous journey in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families.

Two of the victims were 13-year-old cousins ​​from an indigenous community in northern Guatemala. Also dead was young couple with higher education from Honduras who struggled to find well-paid jobs.

Deaths often occur along the way. Many die trying to cross the desert by hiring smugglers or during climb on moving freight trains.

Supporters say tight border policies such as title 42, the rule enforced under the Trump administration, which allows authorities to expel migrants immediately even if they say they are seeking asylum, is forcing migrants to take increasingly dangerous routes.

“It has always been dangerous,” said Teresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Center for Bipartisan Policy in Washington. “One thing that is a clear correlation is that we have seen that as it has become more difficult to get into the United States at the border, desperate migrants will do even more desperate things to get here.”

The Santiago brothers grew up in the indigenous community of San Felipe Usila, a poor municipality of about 12,000 that is three hours from Tuxtepec, one of the state’s largest municipalities.

They were two of nine siblings, and their father, like many in the area, made his living by working in agriculture, tending corn fields. Most of the people in their community speak the indigenous language of Chinantec, and many from San Felipe Usila leave home for the US or larger Mexican cities such as Oaxaca or Tuxtepec.

The brothers moved to Tukstepek, also a rest stop for Central American migrants who ride on the roof of La Bestia, freight train through Mexico. Tour buses often take Tuxtepec residents to Ciudad Juarez, where they will work in assembly plants or try to cross the border, according to Carlos Abad, a journalist with local media El Piñero.

In Tukstepek, the brothers’ families lived in sparsely furnished houses with tin roofs and peeling paint. Each of them contained two children: Begai, a 16-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy; Mariano, 3-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy.

    Guitar on the bedroom wall.

Mariano Santiago Hipólito’s guitar hangs on the bedroom wall.

(Eva Lepis / For The Times)

The brothers spent most of their time in an evangelical Christian church, where Mariano sang in the choir. They played the guitar and often worked together on construction sites.

Mariano told his wife Cuevas about his plans three days before his departure. He had been out of work for 15 days and “was desperate,” she said.

When Begay informed his wife, Maria Antonia Torres Morales, she insisted that “we’re fine, even though we don’t have much.” He said he would be gone for three to five years.

“I didn’t want him to leave,” said Torres, who also helps make ends meet by selling tamales. “I said it was a long time ago.

On June 18, the brothers boarded a bus from Tuxtepec to the state of Veracruz, according to their family members. They then flew to the city of Monterrey and then traveled north to the border town of Nuevo Laredo.

From the hotel room, they contacted their wives. Mariano told Cuevas that they tried several times to cross the border, but were caught by the authorities and forced to return.

On the last day when Cuevas heard from Mariano, he told her that they were going to give her one last chance. She later heard that he had done so and was waiting to be picked up at the trailer.

When she saw the news about the tragedy on TV, she immediately became worried.

“The first thing I thought was that they were going to leave,” she said.

Word spread in Tukstepek about the two brothers after journalist Abad wrote about their story.

“There is sadness in the community, throughout Usila,” said Saulo Mendoza Hernandez, a carpenter from San Felipe Usila who knew the brothers’ father. “Many of us leave and no one expects this for their family.”

This came as a shock to Mario Torres Morales, Begay’s son-in-law, who intended to accompany the brothers. He stayed because the person who was supposed to buy his motorcycle so he could pay for the trip never showed up.

Torres, who sells coconuts, said he was tormented by the thought of leaving his 15- and 6-year-old children, but thought “the three of us will take care of each other.”

On a Friday afternoon at Mariano Cuevas’ house, she sat on a bench in the bare living room and wept as she talked about the surprise party she had recently thrown for her husband. His guitar is hanging on the wall in their bedroom.

Her children do not know that their father is dead. When Cuevas’ daughter sees her crying, she assures her mother that her father will be back soon.

“She’ll be alone,” said María Soledad Miron Morales, Cuevas’ niece, who tried to gently remind Cuevas that she needed to prepare for funeral expenses. “As a mother, in Mexico, this situation is very difficult. We don’t know what will happen.”

Parishioners pray at the home of Maria Antonia Torres Morales.

Church members and relatives pray at the home of Maria Antonia Torres Morales.

(Eva Lepis / For The Times)

Both wives turned to their faith for help. Parishioners join them for prayer in their homes.

At the Begay home Friday night, a weary Maria Antonia Torres Morales quietly greeted parishioners and relatives as they passed through her backyard, past a cage of live pigs, into her living room.

About a dozen people stood in a circle with their heads bowed as the minister read the psalms. The minister said that when Begai left, it seemed to him that his hands had been cut off.

“It hurts us to go through such circumstances,” he said. “But if he [Jesus] We have overcome this, we will overcome this.”

As the “amen” sounded in the room, Torres’ daughter hugged her mother from behind and stroked her hair.

Torres just stared straight ahead.

Special Correspondent Cecilia Sanchez in Mexico City contributed to this report.