While interviewing him, this man worked on construction structures. These structures hold cement columns, and also seem to hold the survival of this family.
After giving me permission to take portraits of him working and of his son, he explained the hardships of living in such conditions. This place was (and still is) at the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo.
Nuevo Laredo is considered an international trade hub, where goods and people pass through from the US into Mexico and vice-versa. Because of its strategic position it has attracted the best riches can get and the worst poverty can summon. This the dark side of this city and the whole of the US-Mexico border. A couple of miles from this place the United States begin.
When I presented this at my university in the American side, they were baffled and even incredulous that such scenes could exist on the other side of the river where they live, work and sleep.
Photo I shot at Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas / Laredo, Texas.
This is International Bridge #2 at the US-Mexico border. Below streams the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo as it is known to Mexicans).
Nuevo Laredo and Laredo have several international bridges. Nuevo Laredo has three and Laredo has four — the disparity is because Laredo also borders another state. One of those bridges is used exclusively for trade, where epic cues of transfer trailers cross several times a day in both directions. There’s also a railroad bridge which nobody counts but is there nonetheless.
These bridge, officially known as Juarez-Lincoln bridge (in honor of both presidents that live the same time and also faced divided nations) it is used for cars only. Pedestrians use Bridge #1, the oldest of them all. But in bridge #2, where I shot this photograph, people tend to go and sell whatever they can from pirate DVDs, pillows, figures of saints and like in this cases lollipops. They sell them in the Mexican side of the bridge, which gives them safety from the occasional American officer checking things out.
The US-Mexico border has many realities, and this is just one of them. Unlike what politicians in Washington or Mexico City think every border city or region has its own goodness and difficulties. In this case the Laredos (or Los Dos Laredos as they are also known in Spanish) are a commerce powerhouse. It is considered the fifth most important trade spot in the whole world, and the first in the whole of Latin America. And Laredoans don’t take it lightly (and Nuevo Laredo people too), they have pride on the fact that commerce between North America and Latin America takes place here. This has attracted one of the brightest people but also one of the worst kind at the same time. For obvious reasons in the Drug War, if Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are pivotal in international trade so it will be in illegal activities and smuggling.
Much has been debated in recent days not only by Donald Trump, but by many in the GOP race for the White House. Porous, invisible, non-existant, weak, and open — these are the adjectives associated to the US-Mexico border. What is true and what is not about this hotly debated issue.
By Miguel Omaña.
For years since I was a young child I witnessed a border, no question about that. The limit between both countries does exist, and it is at some point blatantly present. In the case where I lived a river divided both nations, the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo as it is called by Mexicans). And even when laws, full equipped port of entries, and the Border Patrol has existed, yes, there is a before and after pivotal moment.
The morning that changed the US – Mexico border forever.
The morning of Tuesday September 11th 2001 we woke to a harsh new world, one in which terror and war would reign in never-before seen deadly events. By noon there were rumors the border was going to be shut down. At nightfall the border did not close, but the American side did step up security for good (till our days). Security became strict, even harshly rude towards Mexicans. Two cities once considered sisters were forever seen with distrust thanks to a man inside a cave in Afghanistan, two cities with predominantly high Mexican population.
We used to call ourselves the Two Laredos or Los Dos Laredos. Nuevo Laredo is located in northwestern Tamaulipas state and Laredo situated in Southern Texas. Family and friends sprawl across the border, so much, that the United States government decided pre-9/11 to implement a Border Crossing Card (known as BCC in Department of State lingo or mica in Spanish, which means card). The Border Crossing Card was only for those Mexicans living in the border, so they can cross whenever they want to shop (mhm, mhm, economic boost) and traveling. The photo-issued card was relatively easy to obtain at the US consulate. The rest of the Mexicans needed (and still need) a valid US tourist visa stamped (or rather pasted) on their passports. Basically anyone who lived in the border next to the US could travel into the States.
Stories float about people who used to lend their cards to friends or relatives to go and shop into the US. There was no need to go and stay inside the United States. At least not in a small town like Nuevo Laredo or Laredo. And to go into the rest of the country you need a permit, this would be the second lock because Mexicans need to ask permission at the bridge to go to… say Houston. So the officer would ask you (and still do) exact address and such. A full inspection would come after being approved, with K9 sniffing officers and the whole shebang. Today they use gamma-ray detectors, anti-bomb devices, and the such. If a tire was suspicious to the sweaty officer who’s been under the sun the whole day, he would check it.
The difference 9/11 brought was that the border went into an all-out strict mode. New cards and enhanced visas are swiped like credit cards every time we enter into the United States. If not sure, the officer heavily relies on sending people into “Secondary”, a place where you are sit down and asked to-the-point CSI-like questions. Each entry into the US is saved in the system. And the info can be pulled from any port of entry (not only bridges, but also airports, etc).
One time I crossed through another city, and the officer raised his eyebrows and came towards me with a wary look, “did you cross last week via Laredo?” I was about to answer yes, when he interrupted me with an as-a-matter-of-factly tone, “because the system shows you did.” I explained to him I was visiting that other city, McAllen, Texas. But truthfully I was amazed, and this was a year or so after 9/11.
I know, I know — people can swim.
I tell you about bridges and documents, not only because that is the only way I knew of crossing into the US but also because I worked at a US consulate in Mexico, and became savvy about such things. Yes, yes, Hillary Clinton used to be my boss at some point in my life. But hey, it was an honest paying job and the only time I have ever worked under Uncle Sam’s Old Glory — most Mexican’s dream. Sniff, sniff.
Of course there is a river, one of the most famous ones in the history of mankind — and I know, I know, people can swim. So yes, there were and people are still crossing the river illegally into the United States. Some swim with nothing but one arm while the other grabs a supermarket plastic bag. Others travel across the river on a tire, a piece of wood, you name it — I’ve almost seen it all. One time I saw a man cross the bridge and just did a parkour jump above a high fence a few yards away from Custom officials and cameras. Some just try to cross across the bridge with forged documents and are immediately returned.
After 9/11 infrared cameras were installed in turret-like installations all over the border. Wherever you were standing at the shores of the Rio Grande, you could see at least one of those tall metallic structures. Some are manned (by Border Patrol agents) some are not. When they installed them I was wowed. But that was not all, just before I left the border the US beefed up their security on the Rio Grande, using low-flying helicopters and high-speed boats. Both the boats and the helicopters patrolled the whole river unchecked, even near the shore of the Mexican side. The word militarized came to my mind at that point almost five years ago. Five years before Donald Trump’s comments that was happening in the border!
So back to the question. Does America has a porous border?
Yes and no. No border will ever be secured, ask modern-day Israel, the Roman Empire, the Chinese Empire, and many more. And still, technology and gadgets have been used since the Reagan administration. The myth Donald Trump and others want to expose of an ultimate open border is not true. And yet, illegal immigration keeps pouring in.
Though I found a flaw in the system, something not even Fox News would tell you even when they should. (Geez, maybe I should work one day at Fox News and become the first-ever Mexican anchor.) Here it goes… When you cross by car or walking across a bridge or port of entry, they check you up and down like a barely explained already. I will write more on that someday. But when Mexicans travel by air into an International Airport inside the United States, we are received more courteously and checking just the essentials on our backgrounds. If celebrity-turned-candidate Donald Trump wants to tackle a porous border, he shouldn’t be just visiting Laredo, Texas like he did days ago, but any international airport in America. I understand people are using more the border to cross illegally, but there are weaker spots if you look elsewhere. And for what I know, America should be interest in looking for weak spots, not publicity stunts.
There is another issue any GOP candidate hasn’t firmly addressed. Laws are strangely fashioned towards Mexicans. There are up to 15-year waiting cues to enter legally with a green card, and more years to become a US citizen. Of course, of course America is the land of order and law, and it should remain that way in order to be a beacon of example to other corrupt nation-states like Mexico. I could go on and on about those waiting lines, but that’s not what concerns me. Those waiting lines policies aren’t even available to any Mexican national! If a normal Mexican person wants to legally reside in the US they have nothing but to cross their arms and sniff. America has the toughest immigration rules in the world. Many Mexicans are actually turning to Australia or New Zealand to migrate. The problem is the distance. Some do gather some money and leave. But to reside legally in the United States is basically next to impossible for your average Mexican.
Many presidents have tried to curtail this issue by creating programs like the brasero program, or the temporary worker. But it is challenging for most Mexicans to find an adequate program, because there is simply none for the average family. Some have gathered lots of money and used it to invest in America and create a company. That’s great. But not many are money savvy. This is America’s Achiles heel. And yes, this is also Mexico’s problems, where people go and not comply with rules (however odd they may be).
So here we are, 2015, with a huge problem that has started to create tension between two people. Mexicans blaming Trump and his supporters as racists and bigots. Americans calling out how inclined Mexicans are to trespass and violate laws. And both are right. Americans have these issues because they are immersed in a nation already divided by racial turmoil (i.e. Ferguson) and exhausted by a long war on terror. Mexicans have these issues because they have lived in a violence-is-all corrupt system which have made them poor and uneducated. Whoever understands both sides will find the solution, if not, walls will be erected and hatred will erupt.
Photo I shot at the border with the US, in the Mexican side.
Those living in both sides of the vast border should be chipping in the debate.
Much has been said about the border shared by the US and Mexico. Pundits, politicians and commentators have gone back and forth talking about a place not many have visited, much less lived in it. Even though I was born in Mexico City, since a baby I grew and lived in the border. No one can speak for or against but only those of us who are from border towns, ranches, and cities. It is as if the reality of a far away city — say, London for instance — was to be explained by a person living all his life in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico. But it seems people in the urban jungles miles away are willing to chip in with their rhetoric of things they haven’t lived.
simplifying the border is nonsense.
This may come to a surprise for many expecting a pro or against stance — illegal immigration shouldn’t be happening, just as generalization of a population as criminals is inaccurate. And still the reality of things at the US-Mexico border is far more complex that just black and white. This isn’t the first time this has happened; ask the Roman Empire and their troubles they had with their borders. Borders are meant to be surreal and difficult, after all they are one of the last remnants of our cavemen-like mentality of tribal divisions. That I get. Simplifying the border by people who has never gone to Laredo, El Paso, Arizona, or California — that I don’t get. Brownsville is not living the same reality as to what a ranch is living deep in the range of Arizona. The border is so vast, that is bound to have a mosaic of differing situations, and hence opinions about Mexicans in general — since (sadly) the topic seems to be that instead of the outdated American immigration laws and waiting times which provoke illegal influx in the first place.
Now, if not Americans, hopefully the world will open their eyes to this turbulent situation. It is pressing, yes, not Israel/Palestine-pressing yet, but it is the thought of many in both sides of the border. Again, both sides of the border. One way or another both Americans and Mexicans feel they’re loosing stakes in this border issue. Is that good or bad? All I can say is that there can’t be compromises to be accepted by either nation if politicians from both Mexico and the United States learn the reality of the border IN BOTH SIDES. Let’s face it — there are Mexican nations, American citizens, and then you have a different breed known as politicians (and they’re in Washington D.C. and Mexico City alike).
Before America ever existed as a nation, Mexican indigenous nations also had immigration influx issues. The clash between cultures (newcomers against settled) is explained in my novel Till Stars Shut Their Eyes.