I was born in El Paso, Texas but I was raised in Juarez, Mexico. As a teenager, I traveled back and forth between the two cities so I could attend school in the States. Witnessing life on the border as a young adult influenced my approach to art forever. Dissatisfied after years of working as a painter, I picked up a camera and started taking pictures. I quickly realized that photography was the medium I needed to tell people’s stories. Every person heading to the U.S. has a name, a face, and a story.
For the past 5 years I’ve been documenting the journeys immigrants take to reach the Mexico/U.S. border. I’ve photographed aboard the infamous La Bestia, a dangerous journey by freight train that migrants from Mexico and Central America ride every year to reach the border. Gangs follow the train with the sole purpose of kidnapping, robbing and raping the defenseless migrants on board. It’s estimated that eighty percent of passengers are subjected to violence while hundreds have died. The trials, struggles, and humanity of these people are often lost in the blur of the media, and for me it’s critical to unveil their journey and what led them here in the first place I feel it is just as important to document not only the border but the journey to the border as many never make it.
In 2018, I flew to Chiapas to join La Caravana as it took its first steps into Mexican territory. The members of the caravan sought safety in numbers as they traveled over 1,800 miles to reach Tijuana. In order to cover such a distance, migrants traveled light, relying on donations and shelters for the food, water, clothing and medicine they desperately needed. In November 2018, approximately 7,000 migrants reached the end of their journey as they arrived in Tijuana. Most were housed at the Benito Juarez shelter, a converted outdoor sports arena which was later closed for unsanitary conditions. Migrants were met by angry locals who attacked them and aid groups such as the Red Cross.
From 2017 to 2019, I returned to my hometown of Ciudad Juárez to document the struggles of asylum seekers directly affected by Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. A glimpse into the besieged hopes, harsh uncertainties, and blunt realities – but also the enduring dignity – of mainly Central American asylum-seekers forced into a cruel and dangerous waiting game by the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. I documented the daily life of those who sought refuge at Casa del Migrant, a Catholic-run migrant shelter in Juárez.
In January of 2020, I met up with a massive migrant caravan from Honduras fleeing violence and poor economic conditions. We traveled for 8 days from San Pedro Sula through Guatemala and into Mexico. People slept outside and went days without food. Finally the caravan crossed the Suchiate River into Mexico but was met by the recently established Guardia Nacional composed of former Federal, Military and Naval Police.
Mexican President Andrés Manual López Obrador has historically called for safe passage for migrants, but when U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs, Mexico reversed its policy and deployed soldiers to keep Central American migrants from entering Mexico.
Trump has effectively barred asylum seekers from entering the U.S. by threatening to impose tariffs and cut foreign aid to Central American countries. The human cost of Trump’s political agenda is denying people their fundamental human rights. For many asylum seekers, deportation will result in living a life of extortion, impoverishment and even death. The full effect of Trump's xenophobic policies toward immigrants and asylum seekers will no doubt be felt for generations to come.
With this body of work, I wish to bring dignity and understanding of those trying to migrate and seek asylum to the United States. I want people to understand the risks that they are taking to come here to work very difficult and unforgiving jobs. The risks that they are taking knowing what their fate could be. I want my photographs to bring a change of emotion - to feel respect and sympathy for your fellow human beings. This body of work shows us the face of a failed immigration policy and its consequences." - Ada Trillo