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Teen mom, newborn eye new life from Tijuana migrant shelter

The tiny, month-old boy slept soundly on the bottom bunk, seemingly undisturbed by the squealing Central American toddlers running by and a kitten leaping from the neighboring bed.

About 25 people sleep in the cinderblock room crammed with seven bunkbeds at a Tijuana shelter overflowing with migrants, primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador but also from as far away as Africa. Each bunk bed is like a makeshift home where families pass their days waiting — waiting for their number to be called at the U.S.-Mexico border so they can apply for asylum in the United States, or waiting on a Mexican visa to be able to work.

More people arrive each day and now their future is even more uncertain. Under a new Trump administration policy announced last week, migrants who pass through another country — like Mexico — on their way to the U.S. will be ineligible for asylum.

In this June 05, 2019 photo, teen sisters Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala and Xiomara Enriquez play in the exercise area of Playas de Tijuana, Mexico. The sisters were part of an untold number of Central American youths who traveled alone, accompanied only by other migrants in a caravan that crossed Mexico and landed in this crime-ridden city in November. Henriquez Ayala got pregnant by a boyfriend shortly before arriving to Tijuana. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

For 16-year-old Milagro de Jesús Henríquez Ayala, her cramped corner bunk covered in eight backpacks with donated diapers, toys and clothing is not the ideal spot for raising her newborn son, but it is the best place she has found since she left her violent homeland of El Salvador with her younger sister, Xiomara, after gangs threatened their family.

The sisters, who were 15 and 13 at the time, were part of an untold number of Central American minors who traveled without their parents, accompanied only by other migrants, in a caravan that crossed Mexico and landed in this crime-ridden city in November. Henríquez Ayala became pregnant by her then-boyfriend during the trip, before arriving in Tijuana.

Even after that journey was over, life in the border city across from San Diego has been trying and held moments of fear.

These May 17, 2019 photo, ultrasound scans, one at 22 weeks 3 days, left, and the other at 37 weeks 4 days, show how the baby of teenage migrant Milagro de Jesus Enriquez Ayala grows to term, at the Agape World Mission shelter, in Tijuana, Mexico. At four months pregnant, Henriquez was living off cookies and juice. She started suffering abdominal pains and felt anxious, fearing Mexican officials would deport her and her sister. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

At four months pregnant, Henríquez Ayala was living off cookies and juice. She started suffering abdominal pains and felt anxious, fearing Mexican officials would deport them.

One day she discovered a bullet-riddled body outside the low-budget hotel where she and her sister cleaned rooms in exchange for lodging and the little bit of food.

She almost miscarried. After she was taken to the emergency room, the girls moved to the shelter.

In this May 17, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala speaks by cellphone with her boyfriend, at the Agape World Mission shelter, in Tijuana, Mexico. The pregnant Milagro says she no longer seeks the American dream. She now hopes to build a life in Mexico. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

When she was seven months pregnant, a Mexican smuggler infiltrated the shelter pretending to be another migrant and tried to pressure Henríquez Ayala and her sister to cross the border illegally. She refused because she was worried it would put her at risk again of miscarrying.

The smuggler took another teen girl from the shelter instead. Henríquez Ayala has not heard from that girl since, and fears she may have been kidnapped.

Henríquez Ayala said she is no longer seeking the American Dream — at least not for now.

In this June 06, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala chats with a friend while she washes her clothes at Agape World Mission shelter, in Tijuana, Mexico. About 25 people sleep in the cinderblock room crammed with seven bunkbeds at a Tijuana shelter overflowing with migrants, primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador but also from as far away as Africa. (AP Photo Emilio Espejel)

She has finished the paperwork for a Mexican visa and is determined to build a life on the south side of the U.S.-Mexico border, though the lanky girl has no idea how she'll do that. She left middle school and has almost no job skills, and now she must find work that allows her to be with her baby, Alexander.

The girls' father, Manuel Henríquez, had left them after they crossed from Guatemala into Mexico to go on his own to the United States because he thought it was too dangerous with his teenage children in tow. But he was quickly detained and deported.

Now he is with his daughters in Tijuana after Mexico granted him a one-year humanitarian visa. He earns about 200 pesos, or roughly $10 a day, selling woven bracelets. He lives at the shelter, too, and hopes to bring his remaining three adult children and three grandchildren in El Salvador to Mexico.

In this May 20, 2019 photo, teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala dips her foot in the Pacific Ocean, just a few meters from the border wall that separates Mexico from the United States, at Playas de Tijuana, Mexico. For Milagros life in the border city across from San Diego has been trying and held moments of fear. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

Back home in San Salvador, the Central American nation's capital, gang members had beaten him for refusing to make extortion payments on his bracelet-selling business. They also threatened the girls for walking into what they consider the gang's territory on their way to school.

"You can make money here but slowly," said Manuel Henríquez, 58.

On a recent day, he wove bracelets for a group of U.S. teens from Knoxville, Tennessee, who were doing volunteer work at the shelter as part of their church service.

In this May 23, 2019 photo, pregnant teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala fills a bucket with water at the Agape World Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. At four months pregnant, Henriquez Ayala was living off cookies and juice. She started suffering abdominal pains and felt anxious, fearing Mexican officials would deport her and her sister. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

Henríquez Ayala bathed Alexander in a small plastic tub on the cement floor next to her bunk bed. Like all her baby's belongings, it was donated by someone across the border. Alexander wiggled and cried as she gently washed his black hair.

"I'm baptizing him," she joked to the Rev. Albert Rivera, who runs the Agape Mision Mundial church.

Rivera organized a protest and got human rights officials involved when the Tijuana hospital initially denied her father access to her after she gave birth.

In this Feb. 8, 2019 file photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Xiomara Henriquez Ayala peers over to the U.S. border fence from Tijuana, Mexico, looking for a way to help her companions cross undetected. When Xiomara's sister Milagro was seven months pregnant, a smuggler infiltrated the shelter where they were staying pretending to be another migrant and tried to pressure them to cross the border illegally. They declined fearing for the health of the unborn baby. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel, file)

Tijuana, which has one of the highest homicide rates in Mexico, is not the dream she initially sought when she fled home. But she said it is better than the life she left behind.

"I almost don't like to come out of this room," she said, smiling, standing in a narrow passage between the bunks. "I feel safe here. But I know I will have to leave someday and find a home."

In this May 23, 2019 photo, pregnant teen migrant, Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala plays video games with her friend, Ivan Duran Avila, at a small shopping plaza in Tijuana, Mexico. Henriquez has finished the paperwork for a Mexican visa and is determined to build a life on the south side of the U.S.-Mexico border, though the lanky girl has no idea how she'll do that.(AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this May 11, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala poses for a portrait at the Agape World Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. The shelter is the best place she has found since she left her violent homeland of El Salvador with her younger sister, Xiomara, after gangs threatened their family. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this May 23, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala, goes shopping at a supermarket in Tijuana, Mexico. Henriquez has finished the paperwork for a Mexican visa and is determined to build a life on the south side of the U.S.-Mexico border, though the lanky girl has no idea how she'll do that. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this May 24, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala gets weighed and measured by a nurse during a pre-natal exam at the General Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico. Before she and her sister were taken to the Agape World Mission shelter, She was taken to an emergency room where she almost miscarried. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this May 25, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala has her pregnant belly measured with a piece of string by a fellow migrant, during her baby shower at a hall in Tijuana, Mexico. Many of the girls and women that attended the shower gave Milagro advice on taking care of the coming baby. (AP Photo Emilio Espejel)

In this May 25, 2019 photo, Mindi Parish Stainer holds a doll during the baby shower for Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala, at a meeting hall in Tijuana, Mexico. Parish Stainer has been instrumental in getting the help the pregnant teenager Milagro Henriquez Ayala needed to bring her baby to term. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this May 25, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro Henriquez Ayala, prepares to put a diaper on a doll during her baby shower at a meeting hall in Tijuana, Mexico. Henriquez Ayala became pregnant by her then-boyfriend during the trip North, before arriving to Tijuana. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this May 25, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala, opens her gifts during her baby shower at at a meeting hall in Tijuana, Mexico. Henriquez Ayala left her violent homeland of El Salvador with her younger sister, Xiomara after gangs threatened their family. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this June 10, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala carries her newborn son Alexander, as she boards Rev. Albert Rivera's car, outside the Tijuana General Hospital in Mexico. Rev. Rivera organized a protest and got human rights officials involved when the hospital initially denied her father access to her after she gave birth. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this June 10, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Enriquez Ayala changes the diaper of her newborn son Alexander, at the Agape World Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. For Henriquez Ayala, her cramped corner bunk covered in eight backpacks with donated diapers, toys and clothing is not the ideal spot for raising her newborn son, but it is the best place she has found since she left her violent homeland of El Salvador with her younger sister, Xiomara. (AP Photo Emilio Espejel)

In this June 10, 2019 photo, Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala's younger sister Xiomara, carries her newborn nephew Alexander, at the dorm room of the Agape World Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. The sisters were part of an untold number of Central American minors who traveled without their parents, accompanied only by other migrants, in a caravan that crossed Mexico and landed in this crime-ridden city in November. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

I this June 10, 2019 photo, migrants Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala and Josue Mejia Lucero embrace at the Agape world Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. When Henriquez Ayala was seven months pregnant, a Mexican smuggler infiltrated the shelter pretending to be another migrant and tried to pressure Henriquez Ayala and her sister to cross the border illegally.(AP Photo Emilio Espejel)

In this June 10, 2019 photo, Rev. Albert Rivera shows the video of the demonstration held outside the Tijuana General Hospital, to Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala and her younger sister Xiomara, migrants from El Salvador, as Milagro's boyfriend Josue Mejia, from Honduras, carries Milagro's newborn baby, at the Agape World Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Rev. Rivera organized a protest and got human rights officials involved when the Tijuana hospital initially denied her father access to her after she gave birth. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this June 12, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala holds her newborn son Alexander, at the Agape World Mission shelter, in Tijuana, Mexico. The tiny, 1-month-old boy slept soundly on the bottom bunk, seemingly undisturbed by the squealing Central American toddlers running by and a kitten leaping from the neighboring bed. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this June 12, 2019 photo, newborn Alexander Adonay Henriquez Ayala is given his first bath at the Agape World Mission shelter, in Tijuana Mexico. Like all the baby's belongings, the tub was donated by someone across the border. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

This June 12, 2019 photo, shows the hospital identification bracelet and birth certificate of Alexander Adonay Henriquez Ayala, displayed for a photo, the Agape World Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. The baby boy was born at the Tijuana General Hospital. A Mexican citizen by birth. (Photo APEmilio Espejel)

In this June 12, 2019 photo, Salvadoran teen migrant Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala nuzzles with her newborn son Alexander, at the Agape World Mission shelter, in Tijuana, Mexico. Henriquez Ayala has finished the paperwork for a Mexican visa and is determined to build a life on the south side of the U.S.-Mexico border, though the lanky girl has no idea how she'll do that. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)

In this June 15, 2019 photo, Manuel Henriquez holds his grandson Alexander, as he sits next to his daughter Milagro de Jesus Henriquez Ayala, on her bed, at the Agape World Mission shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Now Henriquez is with his daughters in Tijuana after Mexico granted him a one-year humanitarian visa. (AP Photo Emilio Espejel)

On this May 17, 2019 photo, the baby clothes of Alexander Adonay Henriquez Ayala are displayed for a photo, at the Agape World Mission shelter, In Tijuana, Mexico. Baby Alexander was born of Mialgros de Jesus Henriquez Ayala, a teen migrant mother who braved the long trip from her native El Salvador and stopped just short of crossing the border into the United States. Now both live in Tijuana. (AP PhotoEmilio Espejel)