Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Lying prostrate across the rails, Luis Luna nervously tries to figure out how to crawl up into the undercarriage of a freight car. He's done it before, but he has only seconds before the U.S.-bound automobile carrier starts moving again.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A nurse at a free clinic in Nogales, Mexico, cleans the gashes that Luis Luna suffered a few days earlier when a search dog at a U.S. checkpoint in Rio Rico, Ariz., dragged him from his hiding place on the undercarriage of a boxcar.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Luis Luna looks at a snapshot of he and his girlfriend when they were dating in Pasco, Washington. Now homeless on the streets of Nogales, Mexico, he says when he spots young couples holding hands, the romatic sights makes him ache for his young bride.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A full moon rises over the fence that marks the border between Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico. For scores of homeless Mexicans recently deported from the U.S., the hillside cemetery is where they'll bed down for the night.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Honduran citizen Alejandro Maldonado, 47, beds down on a tomb in a Nogales, Mexico, cemetery. Before he was deported for being in the U.S. illegally, he says he worked four years on an apple orchard in Alexandria, Va. He admits to being desperate to return after several failed attempts to recross the border.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Dusk settles over a cemetery in Nogales, Mexico, as exhausted young migrants from Central America settle into a sleeping spot. Their friends look out for the local police, who sometimes arrest them for trespassing.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

After bathing with a bucket of cold water, Luis Luna brushes his teeth at a dusty bus yard in Nogales, Mexico. For him, the United States isn't a mythical land of opportunity; it's simply home.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A man who says he was a Mexican Mafia gang member deported from Fresno requests a song from a guitar player at a Nogales, Mexico, migrant shelter. Drunk on cheap Mexican liquor, he snarled: "They call me 'The Hammer.'" The guitarist obliged, but other migrants scattered.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Adan Magdariaga cuts hair at a shelter in Nogales, Mexico, that caters to people deported from the U.S. After living in California for nearly two decades, Magdariaga was deported during a recent immigration sweep in San Jose. He laments that he used to get $15 per cut up north. Now it's only tips -- usually $2 or less.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Jorge Arroyo, 19, tearfully greets his mother at a migrant shelter in Nogales, Mexico. She came to take him back home to live in Mexico City. The teenager said he was deported after a dozen years as an illegal immigrant.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Luis Luna walks through the tourist zone of Nogales, Mexico, as he sends a text to his wife in Pasco, Wash. Minutes before, he had failed to jump a northbound freight train, so he tapped out a message to her: "Maybe God doesn't want me to leave today."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Having failed to get on a northbound freight train, Luis Luna looks at the locked steel gate that spans the U.S./Mexico border. "You get more depressed with the border just a few feet away," he said. "Just more torture."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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Adrift between two countries

It had been nine months since Luis Luna was deported from the United States, where he had lived since his mother smuggled him from Mexico when he was a toddler. In America, he played point guard on an intramural basketball team, grilled burgers at a McDonald’s and looked forward to his senior prom. In Mexico, he had no family. He was a stranger sleeping on the streets, scruffy and destitute. He was homeless — and homesick.

Watch Don Bartletti’s video, “Hoping for a train back home”

Read Richard Marosi’s article: “Trying to get back to the only life he knew

1 Comment

  1. January 7, 2012, 11:40 am

    This is a nice set of photos, but it honestly diminishes the credibility of the editors/photographers when the captions indicate that most of the photos were taken in "Baja Norte", which is neither a state nor the correct location of the city of Nogales. Try "Sonora".

    By: purosonorense

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