Along the dry, rocky desert of El Paso, Texas–past all the food chains and shopping malls–a brown fence stretches for miles. The fence marks the southern U.S. border that separates El Paso from its Mexican sister city, Juarez. Antonio Villaseñor-Baca is 22-years-old and was born and raised in El Paso. His hometown is a huge “borderplex” that spans the Rio Grande River. Antonio has an uncle in Juarez, and while growing up, his dad would take him back and forth a lot.
Javier, a 35-year-old from Hidalgo, Mexico, was en route to New York where friends were going to help him find work. He had planned on returning back home after a few years working in the United States. Javier never made it past the border. He was apprehended by Border Patrol officers in January 2012 as he attempted to cross into the United States near Nogales, Sonora. Javier is one of many recently repatriated migrants from Mexico who have detailed physical, verbal and psychological abuse—including beatings, sleep deprivation and racial slurs—by Border Patrol officers after being apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Editor’s note: What is this territory we call the U.S.-Mexico border? We read frequent alarming stories and see media images about la línea, the borderline, a 2000-mile stretch along the Rio Grande and beyond, separating the U.S. from Mexico. It’s often portrayed as a no-man’s land rife with drug smugglers, vicious criminals, gunrunners, anti-immigrant militias, and undocumented or impoverished immigrants, all portrayed with some degree of accuracy and ample amounts of hype in the FX TV series “The Bridge.”
But what’s the real storyline of the border region beyond the sensational headlines? Who are its citizens, a majority of them Mexican American? What is their piece of the American dream? Borderzine invites you to follow Texas journalist Sergio Chapa and University of Texas at Brownsville Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera on their nine-day road trip along the dusty byways and highways hugging the Texas-Mexico border.
A prominent bi-national task force argued that although the U.S.-Mexico border is tighter than ever, both countries should expand cooperative law-enforcement efforts along the border to enhance security. “As part of our border security recommendations the task force also urges a counterpart to the U.S Border Patrol on the Mexican side of the border,” said Robert Bonner, co-chair of the joint Task Force for the Pacific Council on International Policy (PCIP) and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). According to the task force, which met Feb. 27 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., the border is more efficient and secure now than in previous years. “Border relationship has greatly evolved over the last few years,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Woodrow Wilson Mexico Institute.
EL PASO — For three years a woman roamed the border region with an infectious disease, not knowing her health kept deteriorating and that she was endangering those closest to her. This is the story of Rachel Orduño, a social work graduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso, who in 2003 began having a recurring cough. Doctors of both sides of the El Paso-Cd. Juarez border region diagnosed and treated her for everything from bronchitis, pneumonia, to the common cold. “I began with the most common symptoms. Continuous cough, weight loss due to lack of appetite, sweating at night and then I begin having trouble breathing,” Orduño said.
WASHINGTON – The sweeping vistas of Big Bend National Park may be breathtaking, but the park’s proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border makes the deep canyons of the Rio Grande kindling for political feuds. For much of the 20.7 million acres of federally owned land on the border, access for both visitors and officials – including Border Patrol agents – is limited to foot and horseback traffic to preserve the environment. The relationship between the National Park Service and the Border Patrol could change with a bill the House of Representatives passed this week. H.R. 2578, an omnibus bill that includes multiple provisions for conservation, includes a provision that would waive 16 laws to allow the Border Patrol nearly unlimited access federal lands within 100 miles of the border. This would allow trucks to drive where motor vehicles are normally unauthorized, construction for infrastructure in otherwise untouched areas and drones to patrol where overflights are otherwise prohibited.
EL PASO – The North American Free Trade Agreement, (NAFTA) created 18 years ago spawned millions of jobs in Mexico, sending $160 billion in business south of the border. “Never did we expect during the negotiations the success that NAFTA has had,” said Dr. Herminio Blanco, founder of Soluciones Estratégicas and former Minister of Trade and Industry for Mexico. Speaking to students and faculty at the The University of Texas at El Paso February 7, Blanco said, “Mexico has been able to attract $160 billion. Never would we have thought that possible.” The number of jobs created in Mexico by NAFTA is difficult to establish, he said, “…but definitely we’re speaking about at least 2 million families that have jobs directly created by investments that came to Mexico because of NAFTA.”
NAFTA now links 450 million people producing $17 trillion worth of goods and services. The other NAFTA countries (Canada and Mexico) were the top two purchasers of U.S. exports in 2010.
EL PASO – TV reporters covering the U.S.-Mexico border require passion, strong investigative skills and survival skills on a beat that has claimed thousands of lives in a ruthless drug war. Angela Kocherga and her cameraman Hugo Perez, who have covered the violent border for the Belo Border Bureau for the past six years, won the 9th Annual Lone Star Emmy Awards Crime-News Single Story category for their story on Juárez paramedics. Working for the Belo Corporation, one of the largest television companies in the nation, which operates 20 television stations, the Kocherga-Perez team covers stories on drug war violence, immigration and cross border health issues and how all this affects people on both sides of the border. Their featured stories are aired in various stations throughout Texas. The award-winning story revealed the everyday risks the paramedics of Ciudad Juárez face while trying to save lives.
EL PASO – México is going through a structural change to strengthen government and law enforcement in order to combat crime more effectively and weaken the drug cartels, according to a Mexican government official. México has made great strides recruiting police officers and government workers that are not corrupt to help fight the drug cartels, said Alejandro Poire, a spokesman for the Mexican National Security Council and Cabinet. Speaking to leaders of the public and private sectors of México and the United States gathered August 15 and 16 at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) for the Eighth Annual Border Security Conference, Poire said Mexican courts are now prosecuting criminals more swiftly. “México made a massive Congressional reform in 2007,” he said. “In 2006 México only had 6,500 federal police officers and today there are more than 35,000 federal police officers,” Poire said.
EL PASO — Under the umbrella ideal of fostering a new era of bi-national collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico, the University of Texas at El Paso was once again home to the annual Border Security Conference. This two-day event marked the 8th straight year public officials, politicians, scholars and the general public gathered to share concerns, progress, and ideas pertaining to border security and how the border should meet 21st. century challenges. The conference was a joint endeavor of the University and the Office of U.S. Representative Silvestre Reyes (D.,Texas). “It is terrific to have the opportunity to host this conference.