From outside the flimsy two-bedroom shack, the sound of weeping could be heard as Catarina Alonzo mourned her eight-year old son.
Early in December, Felipe Gómez Alonzo and his father, Agustín Gómez Peréz, left the family’s modest home in the mountains of Guatemala with dreams of starting a new life in the US.
But the pair were detained near the US border just a few miles away from the Paso Del Norte port of entry in El Paso, and within six days, Felipe died in a New Mexico hospital – the second Guatemalan child to die this month while in US custody.
“I’m sad and in despair over the death of my son,” said Alonzo, when she emerged to speak to reporters.
US authorities are investigating the deaths of Felipe and seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, but the circumstances which drove both families to risk sending their children on the long journey north are clear: the absolute poverty besetting swathes of rural Guatemala.
Both children came from remote indigenous communities, where migration has long been seen a reasonable response to the country’s hardship, racism and violence.
“Felipe was happy to leave with his father,” said Alonzo in Chuj, an indigenous Mayan language.
She said that both parents had agreed to let Felipe join his father, an agricultural worker, on his trip north. Gómez Pérez hoped to find work to pay off his debts and send money to the family. Felipe hoped to study, and have a bicycle of his own.
When his father had second thoughts about taking him along, Felipe grew upset, so the two parents agreed he could go. Gómez Pérez even bought him a new pair of shoes for the trip, said Alonzo, through tears, her breath making clouds in the chill mountain air.
Throughout the journey, the family stayed in touch by mobile phone. “We talked as soon as they reached the border,” she said, adding that Gómez Pérez called again the next day when the pair were already in border patrol custody. “He said Felipe was okay and excited and healthy.”