The last time Rodrigo Abd took an assignment in Mexico was 2009, when the veteran Associated Press photographer spent 20 days in Ciudad Juárez covering the drug war. The conflict was big news back then, and for many U.S. readers, it became the narrow prism through which everything in Mexico was viewed. Eventually, the bloodshed in Juárez passed on to other areas of the country and slipped from the international headlines. In the years that followed, Abd covered political turmoil and natural disasters across Latin America, embedded with U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan, and earned a Pulitzer Prize with his colleagues for coverage of the civil war in Syria.

In April, Abd returned to Mexico after eight years away. Once again, his assignment focused on a story that has dominated the U.S. news cycle: the border and Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along it. Along with longtime AP-Mexico correspondent Chris Sherman, Abd loaded up a car and set off to traverse the nearly 2,000 mile divide, from east to west, weaving back and forth between the two countries and cataloging the stories of the people they encountered along the way. In an interview with The Intercept from his home in Lima, Peru, Abd described how he began the assignment considering what U.S. readers might think about at the mention of the border — “drugs, war, killings” — but how as he traveled the vast terrain, deeper realties about the region revealed themselves.

People cool off in the Rio Grand river, or Rio Grande and Rio Bravo in Spanish, in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Saturday, March 25, 2017, across the border from Laredo, Texas. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

People cool off in the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, across the border from Laredo, Texas, on March 25, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

The home of Jesus Esteban Cruz in Reynosa, Mexico, Wednesday, March 22, 2017, across the border from McAllen, Texas. Cruz's 20-yar-old daughter Paula says she’s going to write a book someday about her single mother who moved to Reynosa and raised three kids who stayed out of trouble despite the turmoil that swirled around them. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The home of Jesus Esteban Cruz in Reynosa, Mexico, located across the border from McAllen, Texas, on March 22, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Having spent nearly a decade living in Guatemala and understanding the tremendous risks Central American migrants face in making a run for the U.S. border, Abd was awed by the ease with which delivery trucks moved seamlessly from Mexico into the United States.

“It’s so easy to migrate TV screens that are coming from China, assembled in Mexico,” he said. “For people, it’s a nightmare.”

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security reported that apprehensions have dropped to lows not seen in decades, a trend the Trump administration has attributed to its hard-line positions on immigration enforcement. Abd saw evidence of that dynamic in the largely empty migrant shelters that dot the Mexican side of the border. As one border resident described it to him, in recent months, it’s been as if an imaginary wall has taken shape in the spaces where Trump plans to one day place a physical structure.

Cuban Idenia Vidal leads a religious procession adapted to reflect the plight of immigrants, in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Friday, March, 24, 2017, across the border from Laredo, Texas. Some Cubans have been stuck here since then-President Barack Obama on Jan. 12 ended the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that had given Cubans a privileged path to the U.S. Until then, nearly any Cubans reaching U.S. soil had the right to stay, but now they are treated like migrants from other nations, facing a much tougher barrier. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Cuban Idenia Vidal leads a religious procession adapted to reflect the plight of immigrants, in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, on March 24, 2017. Some Cubans have been stuck in Mexico since President Barack Obama ended the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that had given Cubans a privileged path to the U.S.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Migrants have a dinner of rice and beans at the migrant shelter "Casa del Migrante" in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Saturday, March 25, 2017, across the border from Laredo, Texas. Some Cubans have been stuck here since then-President Barack Obama on Jan. 12 ended the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that had given Cubans a privileged path to the U.S. Until then, nearly any Cubans reaching U.S. soil had the right to stay, but now they are treated like migrants from other nations, facing a much tougher barrier. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Migrants have a dinner of rice and beans at the Casa del Migrante shelter in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on March 25, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

FILE - This March 22, 2017, file photo shows a family having a picnic on the bank of the Rio Grande river in Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, located across from Roma, Texas. President Donald Trump will face many obstacles in building his “big, beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border, including how to pay for it and how to contend with unfavorable geography and the legal battles ahead.  (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

A family enjoys a picnic on the bank of the Rio Grande in Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, located across from Roma, Texas, on March 22, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Like any responsible foreign correspondent, Abd found himself desiring more time with the people and places he visited, from the reporters in Nuevo Laredo who have stopped writing stories due to pressure from organized crime to the ranchers in the Arizona desert demanding more action from the Border Patrol in their areas. Abd was transfixed by what he described as the “unique song of migration between the U.S. and Mexico.”

Tourists walk through Santa Elena Canyon, wading through the water of the Rio Grande, between Mexico, left, and the US, right, as they vacation at Big Bend National Park in Texas, Monday, March 27, 2017. Here the Rio Grande slides between two sheer cliff faces, one in Mexico and one in the United States, that tower 1,500 feet above the water. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Tourists walk through the Santa Elena Canyon, wading through the water of the Rio Grande, between Mexico, left, and the U.S., right, as they vacation at Big Bend National Park in Texas, on March 27, 2017. Here the Rio Grande slides between two sheer cliff faces, one in Mexico and one in the United States, that tower 1,500 feet above the water.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

A phone used by migrants to call their families sits in the "Casa del Migrante" migrant shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Wednesday, March 22, 2017, across the border from Brownsville, Texas. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

A phone used by migrants to call their families sits in the Casa del Migrante shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, on March 22, 2017, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Delfino Luis Trevino, with his head bandaged, rests on a bunk bed at the "Senda de Vida" migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Trevino, from Veracruz, Mexico, said he was beaten one week ago by "polleros," the Spanish name for human traffickers on the border, because he tried to cross to McAllen, Texas without hiring them. He said they where charging $500 dollars. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Delfino Luis Trevino rests on a bunk bed, with his head bandaged, at the Senda de Vida migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, on March 22, 2017. Trevino, from Veracruz, Mexico, said he was beaten one week ago by “polleros,” the Spanish name for human traffickers on the border, because he tried to cross to McAllen, Texas, without hiring them.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

“I was surprised to see how families are divided and go on Sundays to have a barbecue on the other side and how they share this unique territory,” Abd said. “Even though there is fear that things could really change if there is a wall, people still think that that unique territory is going to be the same — that the families are going to be border families, half on half, and that they will continue to have this relationship.”

Workers use a crane to lift a segment of a new fence into place on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, where Sunland Park, New Mexico, meets the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday, March 30, 2017. Residents on the Mexico side estimate 15 to 20 panels go up daily. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Workers use a crane to lift a segment of a new fence into place on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, where Sunland Park, New Mexico, meets the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on March 30, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Pregnant women ride on a float during a march against violence organized by local churches in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state Mexico, Saturday March, 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Pregnant women ride on a float during a march against violence organized by local churches in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on March 25, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Boots decorate a wall at the Bad Rabbit Cafe in Terlingua, Texas, near the US-Mexico border, Monday, March 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Boots decorate a wall at the Bad Rabbit Cafe in Terlingua, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexico border, on March 27, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

“There are those stories that you can only learn about by being there,” Abd explained, like the school he visited where dual citizen students load up with their passports and travel from their homes in Mexico to attend class in the U.S. “I think that there are many, plenty of those stories along the border. The thing is that we don’t see them because we are only focusing on the freaking wall and in the drug war and in the tunnels, and there is a lot more.”

“I am not saying these things are not important,” he went on to say. “They are important, for sure — a wall or different migration policies will affect, really, millions of people. But at the same time, it’s important to give to the readers a more complex story.”

People stand in a bus waiting to go home after their work day at a "maquiladora" for car accessories in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, across the border from Brownsville, Texas. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

People stand in a bus waiting to go home after their workday at a “maquiladora,” as border factories are known, for car accessories in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on March 21, 2017.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Stars fill the sky over Tin Valley Retro Rentals where tourists can sleep in tipi-style tents in Terlingua, Texas, near the US-Mexico border, late Monday, March 27, 2017. The rental options are on about 90 acres of desert, where Airstream trailers and old buses are converted into quarters. People can also sleep in one of two tipis. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Stars fill the sky over Tin Valley Retro Rentals where tourists can sleep in tipi-style tents in Terlingua, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexico border, on March 27, 2017. The rental options are on about 90 acres of desert, where Airstream trailers and old buses are converted into quarters.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd/AP