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Juan Ramon Gomez Rosada, 38, accompanied by his wife, Sara de Carmen Carranza, 31, and his two sons, 12-year-old Edison and 11-year-old Kevin, sought refuge at the shelter in Tultitlan on a recent night before continuing by freight train toward the U.S. border.

“There’s no jobs. I don’t have a job. And I wanted to get my kids out,” Mr. Gomez Rosada said. “They’re at the age right now where they’re very liable to be influenced by the gangs in our hometown.”

For others, the motivations are different. “I’ve got 40 clients at my shop in Los Angeles,” Mr. Cordova said. “The shop’s been closed since I got deported. I need to get back.”

He acknowledged that he did not pay taxes for several years while living in the United States. “I just never got papers. I never even tried,” he said. “I was stupid.”

Asked how he plans to sneak back into the country, Mr. Cordova said he was not sure. “I’ve got to think about it,” he said. “Maybe Nogales. … I’ve got to see. … We’re going to make it somehow.”

Keith Dannemiller contributed to this report.