El Paso family lives binational life thanks to SENTRI program

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Luis is among the thousands of people who cross the Juarez-El Paso border each day. His wife, Gabriela, often greets him at the door of their West Side El Paso home when he returns in the evening to ask “How was your day?”

The Rio Grande river and border checkpoints separating Mexico and the United States are not considered obstacles for many locals who have business on both sides, and Luis and Gabriela’s family is no exception.

Luis – who asked that only first names be used in this story – lives in El Paso, but works in sales in Juarez. His family is among the nearly 50,000 people enrolled in the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) program that allows them to bypass long lines and cross the international checkpoint more quickly. Ana Aguirre, a spokeswoman with SENTRI program’s enrollment department said the program, administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers.

“If you have the SENTRI program, it takes you 5 to 15 minutes maximum. If you don’t have the program it can take you one hour, even two hours, especially during the holidays,” said Luis, who has been using the SENTRI program for 10 years.

As a result of the expedited border crossing, the family – Luis, Gabriela, their daughter, Regina, and Gabriela’s mother, Argelia – can visit family members in Juarez whenever they wish without worrying about long wait times for each crossing. Gabriela explained the family decided to move to El Paso and start a binational life after Regina began attending fifth grade here.

“The reason why I brought her to start her studies here was because of the insecurity Juarez was facing. After that decision we made we started thinking, ‘OK, she is already studying here, we could start living here through my husband’s work.’”

During 2009 to 2012, Juárez witnessed a drug war that led to it being labeled the deadliest city in the world. Many families like Luis and Gabriela’s who had the ability to attain work visas moved to El Paso chose to do so to keep their families safe from the violence.

“At one point the situation of Cuidad Juarez was kind of bad. Just to keep a peace of mind that said, ‘OK, I’m going to be over there going back and forward. I just want to know that whatever is going on over there but you are safe here and that would be it,’ ” Luis said.

When the family moved to El Paso, Gabriela’s mother Argelia could have come with them, but she decided to stay in Juarez, at least temporarily, to continue her job as an English teacher.

“At the beginning it was difficult to be separated. But I knew I wanted to live alone and not with them. Therefore we visit each other every two weeks. Either I stay with them or they stay with me,” Aregelia said.

Through family gatherings on either side of the border, Luis’s family keeps in touch.

“Every Sunday we see each other. It’s a tradition. We always eat together and in summer we spent every Sunday at my in-laws’ house. We are a very close family,” he said.

Regina said at first it was hard to transition into life on the El Paso side of the border.

“Now, I like living here, but I do miss it. All my friends live over there,.” she said.

Regina, who came to El Paso as a nine-year-old, said she wouldn’t go back.

“I would stay in the United States. I believe the schools have a better future for us,” she said.

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