NOGALES, Mexico – Patricia Lopez's journey toward a better life in the United States ended with a nighttime robbery, a twisted ankle and a Border Patrol escort to the frontier — where she was dumped at dawn without a peso in her pocket, 1,575 miles from home.
She's far from alone: Nearly 1 million people, many of them penniless, were turned back across the border last year, and analysts fear that tougher new U.S. border enforcement will inundate border towns with the desperate and the destitute.
Migrant shelter directors are scrambling for funds and considering hiring more staff to keep their doors open 24 hours a day in anticipation of a record number of migrants being repatriated.
"Everyone is getting ready because we're worried there is going to be a mass deportation of people," said Francisco Loureiro, who runs a migrant shelter in Nogales that houses up to 120 people a night. "We're worried there's going to be too many people to tend to, and we just don't have the room for more."
Most migrants try to bring a little money to the border, but they are vulnerable to bandits who prey on illegal crossers and can find most of their funds drained by the fees of people smugglers.
After Lopez crossed into the Arizona desert, robbers stripped her male companions down to their underwear in the night and stole her money as well — about $130.
Lopez, 35, gave up trying to make it to Indianapolis after twisting her ankle. She hobbled to a highway and waited for the Border Patrol, which left her at the Nogales border crossing.
"I figured if it was going this bad, something else was going to happen," said Lopez, who was staying at Laureiro's shelter. "Now I just want to go home."
But a bus ticket back to Acapulco — and her two children — would cost about $105 — three week's work at Mexico's minimum wage.
Lopez said agents of a Mexican government migrant aid force, Grupo Beta, offered to pay about a quarter of that and she was going to ask for the rest from local churches.
If that failed, the single mom would find a temporary job.
The first of 6,000 U.S. National Guard troops are being deployed to the border this month for support work that will help the Border Patrol concentrate on catching illegal migrants. Border experts say that will mean thousands more being detained and dropped at the border.
"As agents are freed up and deployed back to the line and the National Guard troops support our operations ... all this will add up to an increase in apprehensions," Border Patrol spokesman Todd Fraser said in Washington D.C.
So far, the troops appear to be discouraging crossings. The Border Patrol says detentions have dropped since the National Guard arrived in early June.
But most expect crossings to rise as smugglers find new routes around the increased security.
"Repatriations are going to accelerate and the border zone is going to be hit the hardest with this, because the cities are going to be receiving people in search of resources and these towns don't have them," said Jorge Santibanez, director of the Tijuana-based Colegio de La Frontera Norte, a border research center.
"The government should be helping these migrant organizations and putting the infrastructure in place now," he said.
Border experts say more than 75 percent of migrants who are returned to the border try crossing again. Others scrounge for a bus fare home. A few wind up living off the streets.
Blanca Villasenor, who runs a shelter in the border city of Mexicali, said that when the U.S. concentrated agents in hotspots in Texas and California in 1994, Mexicali was flooded with repatriated migrants.
Thousands slept in the city's streets and parks.
"Maybe it wasn't a mass deportation per se, but there were really a lot of migrants returned — some 30,000 a month — and that was just in Mexicali," Villasenor said. "They arrive without money. A third of those who are deported are dropped off in the night at 1 or 2 a.m. They are completely unprotected and are often abused by police or others."
It's been a thorny issue for both governments.
In 2004, U.S. officials tried a Lateral Repatriation Program meant to break migrants ties with their smugglers, whose fees often include several attempts to cross. Each day, 300 migrants caught in Arizona were dropped off in Mexican towns on the Texas border.
The program, however, outraged Texans who said it brought more illegal immigrants into their state. The Mexican government complained migrants were stranded in unfamiliar areas.
Last year, U.S. officials budgeted $14.2 million for a pilot program that flew as many as 33,900 Mexican migrants to Mexico's heartland rather than leaving them at the border.