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EL PASO — The border is a fact of life here. There is no politics in that statement, no right or wrong. Whether you think the border should be torn down entirely or made an impenetrable wall, it exists here in El Paso in a way I have seen nowhere else. Years ago, when I was a much younger man, I made several trips with my best friend Duke out to Arizona to see a dark-haired girl. I remember very clearly driving I-10 and looking south, across the Rio Grande, down into Mexico. I IMG_9023remember how close it was, this other city, this other country. It was perhaps a block away, a few hundred feet and in the bright day you could look into people’s back yards, into the open doors of their houses. Driving through at night it was lit differently, thousands of bare bulbs gave it the look of a constellation laid out across the desert. Although I have crossed La Frontera many times at Nogales and once somewhere in the far south of Texas, it was always El Paso and Juarez that symbolized the border for me.

After all those years remembering and all those years spent much farther south of the border, I crossed into Juarez and was able to see into my own country, see El Paso rising up to the north. I-10 is clearly visible, cars and semi-trucks move sedately along. The border itself appears like topographical lines: the fence itself, the concreted stream that was once the Rio Grande, the dirt track patrolled by the trucks and SUVs of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The border is omnipresent, a huge physical and psychic presence that separates cities and countries, people and stories. IMG_9025Every day people move from one side to the other and back for work. Men and women try to cross through the desert in the night, scale the fence during the day, apply for asylum at the bridge and submit their papers for a visa at the U.S. Consulate.

IMG_9055Many coming north are hoping for a better job, to escape violence or be reunited with their families. Others are smuggling drugs and trafficking human lives. Most are from Mexico and Central America but there are people from all over the world who have made their way to Mexico to try the border here at Juarez. In the ICE detention facility in El Paso there are Somalis from the Horn of Africa, Sikhs from the Indian Subcontinent, Russians…

These are facts. People migrate and many of them do so at the border in and around El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Every immigration story involves trauma. Even a happy story, where papers are in order and families are reunited is also a story of loss and separation. The stories of parents separated from their children, of wives from husbands and families divided are heartbreaking.

Not everyone who crosses the border is a simpleIMG_9064 worker looking for a better life, a child fleeing Central American gangs or a woman trying to save her sick baby. There are also criminals, drug smugglers, human traffickers and potentially terrorists. They all have a story. That is the fact.

As one immigrant, Carmen Hernandez said, “Ultimately each of these people, all of these stories, are pawns in the great game. If we don’t fix the greater problems we will be dealing with these same stories 100 years from now. These are all stories of overwhelming emotion that can lead to division and hatred. At the end of the day you need to enjoy your own life.”


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