Before migrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol, they must shed nearly all of their belongings. The process creates a scattered mess on the banks of the Rio Grande, a monument to life on the migrant trail, each discarded item telling a story: A pair of children’s high-top sneakers; a toothbrush; an empty pouch of applesauce; documents with names and ID numbers; a pink bra, covered in dust.

The belongings of migrants, left behind as they prepare to cross the border in Texas. Photo by Lillian Perlmutter

In February, I accompanied a mustached Mexican man and his chestnut mare across the Rio Grande, just downriver from a towering gate in the border wall where migrants are known to turn themselves in to Border Patrol. A hundred meters from the razor wire laid by the Texas National Guard, he picked through the piles, cautious and quiet. Soon, his saddle was loaded with jackets, blankets, backpacks and shoes, anything that might be sellable on the street in Juárez. “One time I found $500 cash,” he says.

The process of leaving valuables behind isn’t always as simple as abandoning clothes and toiletries. One Venezuelan woman I met at the border, Exymar Díaz, had brought her husky mix Sasha with her from home, believing with tragic naïveté that the animal would be allowed to join her in her transition to a new life. Díaz left Sasha on the riverbank in Juárez in February, where the animal may have joined the packs of wild dogs, lean and cagey, that prowl the border area feeding on trash heaps. Díaz was not the first migrant I have met who has been forced to leave behind an animal — to my knowledge, none have been reunited.

After turning themselves in to Border Patrol, they must leave most of their possessions behind. Photo by Lillian Perlmutter

Migrants spend no more than a few hours at the riverbank waiting for Border Patrol to pick them up, but their empty clothes remain, lingering memorials to the migrant journey whose stories hang thick in the air. 

These photos were taken in Juárez.

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