AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump visited McAllen, Texas, today to continue to press his argument for a wall at the southern border. McAllen is one of the safest cities in the U.S. Across the border, however, sits one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico - Reynosa. It's become an unintended home for a growing number of migrants. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Josue Edgardo Baquedano arrived here in Reynosa two months ago with his 5-year-old son. They fled the violent city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras, where he says it's nearly impossible to keep your children out of the gangs. "They steal them from you or lure them away with fancy shoes and cellphones," he says.
JOSUE EDGARDO BAQUEDANO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "And then they tell you, you have a problem because your child isn't yours anymore. He now belongs to the gang," says Baquedano. Baquedano says he tried to cross the international bridge into McAllen, Texas, to ask for asylum back in November but was stopped by a U.S. immigration agent.
BAQUEDANO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "He told me to wait behind a blue line on the bridge, which at the time I didn't know put me back in Mexico," he says. And within a few minutes, Mexican immigration officials arrived and took him and his son away. They were detained for three days but luckily not deported back to Honduras. He says he's since found a job and a house and is staying put for now. Baquedano is lucky. Officials here say many migrants stuck in the city fall prey to the criminal groups that dominate this northern Mexican border city.
Reynosa's mayor, Maki Ortiz Dominguez, says it's not just U.S.-bound migrants that are concentrating in the city. She's dealing with thousands of migrants deported from the U.S. as well. She says 150 to 180 each day are deported to the region.
MAKI ESTHER ORTIZ DOMINGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "The fact that there is such a concentrated number of migrants in cities along the border could give rise to another type of organized crime," she says. She's worried about gangs easily recruiting desperate migrants. And she says her police force is already stretched thin. I caught her outside a hotel ballroom before she went into a celebration for National Police Day, which included a full breakfast for all the cops in town and raffle prizes. A local commander walked away with a new refrigerator.
ORTIZ DOMINGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "I'm so proud of all of you," Ortiz Dominguez told the crowd. And she's tried to increase their salaries and give them the best tools they need to do their jobs, but it's tough. Reynosa has some of the most lucrative drug routes into the U.S. Two cartels battle for the region. Last year, more than 250 people were murdered here, thousands more went missing. And mixed in with all that violence are the migrants, says Mariana Calderon, a psychologist with the state's institute to assist migrants.
MARIANA CALDERON: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Reynosa's one of the places with the highest number of kidnappings, extortions and murders," she says. Migrants are a big target to those criminals. Josue Edgardo Baquedano, the migrant from Honduras who's stuck in Reynosa for now, says he doesn't think President Trump's wall will keep migrants out of the U.S. He says, people crave a safe place to live.
BAQUEDANO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "You can build a wall 30 feet high with a line of snakes below it, but people's needs are much greater," he says, "they'll get around it." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Reynosa, Mexico.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We mistranslate a comment by Josue Edgardo Baquedano. He referred to a 30-foot wall topped with concertina wire, not a 30-foot wall with a line of snakes below.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.