Clandestine Crossings: The Stories

©2010 by David Spener


The nine stories appearing in this e-book are based on interviews of migrants and coyotes conducted by David Spener in Texas and Mexico between 1998 and 2006.  They are published here free of charge to benefit researchers, journalists, activists, and others who are interested in gaining more in-depth knowledge about the ways in which undocumented Mexican migrants cross the border and the kinds of things that happen to them when they do.    This collection serves as a companion to the author's book Clandestine Crossings: Migrants and Coyotes on the Texas-Mexico Border, published in December 2009 by Cornell University Press.  To print the entire collection,  click here.   Scroll down for links to individual stories.


Suggested citation:  Spener, David. 2010.  Clandestine Crossings: The Stories.  Electronic book.  San Antonio, Texas: Author.  Downloaded from



Title linked to pdf file



It Was a Lot of Money, But It Was Worth It



Álvaro was from a small town in the foothills of the eastern sierra of the central altiplano region of the state of San Luis Potosí. He went to the United States for the first time in 1999, when he was just sixteen years old.  Álvaro worked in San Antonio for about a year before he was turned over to the immigration authorities and deported for having tried to get a Texas driver’s license without possessing the proper documentation.  He went back to his hometown in Mexico for a month before returning to San Antonio.  His next sojourn lasted for four years, during which he married a U.S. citizen, had a daughter, and learned a skilled construction trade.  It ended suddenly when he was picked up by the Border Patrol at the entrance to a construction site where he was working.  He returned to San Antonio a couple of months later by hiring a professional coyote who lived in a neighboring town in Mexico. 




El Carpintero




El Carpintero was a middle-aged migrant who became a coyote after making many clandestine border crossings in the 1980s while traveling back and forth on his own between Houston, Texas and his home in Monterrey, Nuevo León.  He had worked in a factory in Monterrey and as a carpenter in Texas.  He was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol near Laredo in 1997 with six undocumented migrants in his car.  He spent the next eight months in U.S. federal prison after pleading guilty in court to “alien smuggling.”  I interviewed him in Monterrey in the summer of 1999, about a year after he had been released from prison and deported back to Mexico.





Divided Lives





This is the story of José and María, a young couple living in rural northwestern Guanajuato, not far from the city of Dolores Hidalgo. It illustrates the impacts that intensified border enforcement and the growing criminalization of undocumented migration has had on Mexican migrants and their communities.  José and María’s experiences are exemplary of those of many other families in the region, although theirs is a particularly dramatic case.  Although José never thought of himself as a coyote, the U.S. Department of Justice charged him with being one after a county sheriff’s deputy pulled him over as he was driving fellow migrants in a pick-up truck through a small town in South Texas.





Se batalla mucho





Se batalla mucho relates the migratory experiences of Hilda and Julián, a young married couple from a small village in the rural northwestern section of the state of Guanajuato.  Julián was the brother and next-door neighbor of José, whose story “Divided Lives” also appears in this collection.  Julián made his first trip to the United States in 1994, at the age of twenty-one, just as he and Hilda were beginning their romance.  He went back and forth between Guanajuato and Dallas, Texas for the next couple of years before returning to marry Hilda at the end of 1996.  They returned to Dallas together to live and work early in 1997.  Although their first border-crossing together went relatively smoothly, when they attempted to return with their baby daughter after a visit home at at the beginning of 2000, they suffered tremendously. Hilda and Julián’s second sojourn in Dallas was marked by a series of economic and emotional setbacks that led them to question whether it made sense for them to remain together in Dallas, especially since it was nearly impossible for Hilda to work after having two more children there.  Finally, in mid-2003 they decided it would be best for Hilda to return to Guanajuato with their children.  Even though it was getting more difficult and dangerous every year, Julián continued to go back and forth across the border to work.





You Can Cross Any Time You Want





Beto was a coyote who had been deported from the United States after  being arrested while driving a van full of migrants near Alpine, Texas, just north of Big Bend National Park.  He had lived and worked for five years in Austin, Texas in the late 1990s before his arrest.  When I met him in 2002, Beto was living back home in the small town of La Cancha, Nuevo León, working as a recruiter of customers for a group of coyotes based at the border in Piedras Negras, Coahuila.  In our interviews he told me how he came to be a coyote, how the groups he had worked with operated, how the business of moving migrants across the border had changed in recent years, and how he viewed his future as a coyote.




From Matamoros to Houston




“From Matamoros to Houston” tells the story of a coyote named Paco, who from 1995 to 2002 made his living guiding and transporting Mexican and Central American migrants across the border surreptitiously.   A childhood friend recruited him into the business at a time when Paco was unemployed and had a wife and young children to support.  What started out as a temporary, part-time job quickly turned into a full-time, fairly lucrative career.  Paco quit working as a coyote in early 2002, as the risks of prosecution and lengthy incarceration in the United States grew and the crooked police that demanded protection money from him in Matamoros raised their rates beyond his willingness to pay.





I Helped Them Because I Had Suffered, Too






Don Ignacio was born on the ejido of Guadalupe Victoria, Coahuila in 1926.  His parents were peasants.  He had worked in the fields as a child, in a steel foundry in Monclova as a young man, and as a mojado and bracero in Texas before moving to San Antonio in the 1950s, where he raised his family.  When he retired, he and his wife of over fifty years moved to a ranch a few dozen miles west of town, off the road back toward Coahuila.  In his later years, he would provide water, food, the use of his telephone, and a place to sleep for the night to migrants who arrived at his door after trekking through the brush away from the border.  For a time around the turn of the new century, he worked for a coyote from the state of Querétaro, driving migrants from his ranch to San Antonio in the back of his pick-up truck.



Criminal Enterprise or Christian Charity?


Berta and Ángel Flores and their children were a family of Spanish-speaking tejanos who provided sanctuary to hundreds of immigrants over the course of many years on the grounds of a business they owned in a small town in South Texas.  The family’s property was raided on several occasions by the Border Patrol, resulting in the arrest of dozens of immigrants who were housed on the premises after having been transported there by coyotes they had hired.  Finally, as the result of an undercover investigation, four members of the family were arrested, convicted of harboring “illegal aliens,” and sentenced to several years in federal prison.  The government claimed that the family was part of a lucrative “alien-smuggling” network that illegally profited from the desperation of migrants.  The family, as well as some members of the community, argued that they were simply offering food and a place to stay to people whose immigration status in the United States was not their concern.  

Sandra, in San Antonio, on Her Way to Seattle


Sandra was a 21-year-old mother who lived in poverty with her three children in the northern border city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila.  Her husband, a maquiladora worker, had a foul temper and a drinking problem.  He routinely beat her and abused her emotionally.  Fearing for her safety, her mother and father, who had gone to live in Seattle, Washington, convinced her to flee her husband and join them in the United States.  They set her up with the same coyotes that had brought her mother across the border a year earlier.   I interviewed Sandra in her aunt’s house in San Antonio in 2004 a few days after coyotes had brought her and her three-year-old son across the border.  It had been a harrowing trip, but she and her son had arrived safe and sound.  She was waiting for another relative to come to drive her to Seattle, a couple of thousand miles away, to reunite with her parents.  She was worried about how she was going to wrest her other two children away from their abusive father.


Bilingual Glossary of Migration-Related Terms


This glossary contains terms in Spanish and English that may be unfamiliar to some readers of the stories.


Last updated August 11, 2010.  Send feedback to