The freight train screeched to a halt and a few hundred people hoped that a new phase of their life was about to begin.
One father, Leuman Varela, told CNN he, his wife and their four children had spent four days and nights on top of the train, traveling hundreds of miles as they fled from their native Venezuela.
“This is for the brave, this is tough,” he said, his young son, Luca, on his shoulders. “Putting your family in danger is hard, but God has been with us – he has been helping us, to give us strength.”
The people on top of the freight trains have no shelter from the day’s blazing sun and the night’s brutal cold as they travel north from southern Mexico to cities along the US border.
“We’ve been hungry, cold, hot, but here we are chasing the American dream, for a better life for our family,” Varela said.
As they clambered down from the tanks and rail cars in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, many of the people smiled with apparent relief to get their feet back on solid ground. They were some of the thousands of people arriving with the hopes of entering the US, some aware that a pandemic-era immigration restriction called Title 42 is set to end, others not.
But one mother was afraid – her leg shaking as her husband and teenage sons pleaded impatiently with her to get off the train. They held her hand and were there to catch her when she finally climbed down a metal ladder in her pink plastic sandals.
Her son, Leonardo Luzardo, said it had been a long, cold night atop the train, feeling like their bodies were turning to ice.
“It seemed like we were going to freeze,” he told CNN. “Our feet frozen, frozen, – the whole body frozen.”
Luzardo, from Chile, said he and his family would stay the night in Ciudad Juárez, which straddles the border near El Paso, Texas, and planned to cross into the United States the next day.
“We’ll try to take a shower and get ready so we’re not that dirty.”
Some aid groups and shelters do offer food and facilities, but a hose spewing water near the tracks was a welcome sight for a group of women who stopped to quench their thirst and wash their hands and faces free of the dirt from hours on top of the train.
The Varela family from Venezuela said they, too, would head to the border after a night’s break in their journey. They had managed to register with the CBP One app launched by US Customs and Border Protection to allow people a chance to get an appointment for an entry interview – at least if they had access to the internet and were lucky enough to find an available slot.
The Varelas did not have an appointment, but they protected a printout of an automated email reply in a plastic bag and hoped it would be enough to help them enter.
The renewed focus on the border has centered on the lifting of Tit