The Ramirezes had been told another truck full of people wanting to cross the border would meet them at their drop-off point, and they found it was already there when they arrived. Men, women and children were gingerly piling out of the back of it. As the Ramirez and Lopez families climbed out of their vehicle, their driver told them to huddle around him and listen up. He kept his voice as low as possible, but he was still loud enough to be heard.

“Go out into the desert. Each of you take a hiding place behind the shrubs and rocks. Try to stay out of sight until you’re given the signal to run. When it’s time, I’ll let out a loud coyote howl. Then, you all just run for the fence as fast as you can. Don’t look back – just run!”

The families quickly dispersed and found their hiding places, waiting for the coyote howl. Papa took the two younger boys and hid behind a big rock, holding little Marcelo by the hand. Mama and the two girls hid behind a clump of cactus. The older son found his own bush near Papa to shield himself.

Before long, a loud shrill howl pierced the night air and carried out over the flat land. The race was on.

They all ran with every ounce of energy they possessed, crossing the dark Mexican desert with only the light of the crescent moon to guide them. As their shoes were clapping the dry desert floor, the pounding of their hearts was resonating in their ears. Diving in the dirt for the border fence, the hopeful clawed and crawled their way under it to freedom.

Papa could see Mama and little Sofía were struggling. Sofía’s little legs couldn’t keep up and stumbled a few times. He worried they might be left behind. So, in a firm voice, not more than a whisper, he urged them on. “Άndale! Άndale, muchachas!”

Mama firmly grasped Sofía’s hand and held on for dear life, nearly dragging her to freedom as she helped her run. Papa was frantically trying to help the rest of the children under the fence before diving under himself. He made it to the other side, picked up five-year-old Marcelo, and began running, pressing the older children to get moving. “Run, niños, run! Rápido, rápido!”

In desperation, Mama shoved Sofía under the fence ahead of her, yelling at her to run and not look back. Sofía scrambled to her feet and took off running in terror. Mama squeezed through and caught up with her. She grabbed Sofía by the hand and helped her run like she had never run before.

Simply clearing the fence was not enough. The U.S. border patrol could catch them and arrest them for illegally entering the country. It was important that they ran far enough into Arizona land to reach the trucks that were waiting to take them safely to their new lives.

They all reached the other side safe and sound, their hearts pounding in their chests, barely able to catch their breath. They looked around the muffled chaos to try and find their family members amidst the clouds of dust. Fortunately, they had all gotten through without being detected. There were no guards, no lights, and no dogs. It was eerily silent.

Lifting the crucifix she wore around her neck, Juanita pressed it to her lips and gave it a quick, gentle kiss. “Gracias a Diós. Gracias a Diós,” she whispered under her breath.