What Happened to the Migrant Caravan by Karie Luidens

Migrants in Tijuana.jpg

Yesterday we saw one story of what it’s like these days once you’ve decided to make the journey north from Central America through Mexico to the U.S. in search of a better, safer life.

So what’s it like once you arrive at the border?

Well, here’s how things have gone overall in the last few months, as crowds of asylum seekers have bottlenecked at the Mexican side of the U.S.’s artificially metered ports of entry.

Here's what happened to the migrant caravan that arrived in Tijuana last year

Rafael Carranza and Daniel González
El Paso Times
Published 8:00 a.m. MT Feb. 11, 2019

[There were] 6,000 migrants from Central America who flooded into Tijuana in November [2018] after traveling through Mexico in caravans, overwhelming local authorities, and drawing the wrath of President Donald Trump, who in response deployed several thousand activity-duty military troops to the southern border.

Three months later, most of the 6,000 migrants are gone. Nearly half chose to wait in line for a chance to ask for asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry [into San Diego], despite the long waits. Most have already seen a U.S. immigration officer.

The remaining migrants chose to stay in Mexico, return home, or travel to other areas of the border, where they either attempted to enter the U.S. illegally or asked for asylum at other ports of entry, according to initial estimates from the Mexican government. […]

With shelters at capacity, the [Tijuana] city government opened a makeshift shelter at a sports complex to house the waves of Central Americans who arrived weekly for nearly a month.

But as more migrants arrived, living conditions began to deteriorate, and small groups of asylum seekers started crossing the border illegally.

Many Have Perished Along the Way by Karie Luidens

2018-10-30 - Honduran migrants walk to Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo

You’re a citizen of a Central American nation who’s started getting death threats from a gang in your neighborhood, or who’s been persecuted by a corrupt government, or who despairs over whether you’ll be able to feed your children since a foreign mining company secured rights to your ancestral farmland and the sparse local work doesn’t pay a living wage.

You may or may not have any concept of the historical connection between the United States’ exploitation of your country’s soil, water, minerals, and politics. Maybe you know that their corporations’ manipulations, backed by U.S. policy and the U.S. military, are in large part what’s driven you and your neighbors to your current state of poverty and vulnerability to both gang and state violence. Or maybe you don’t.

Either way, you do know that the U.S. is supposed to be the land of opportunity. Isn’t it a nation of immigrants, immigrants who erected a Statue of Liberty to light the way for those who would follow? You know there are jobs, at least, and safety from the dangers that threaten you and your family at home.

What do you do next?

Well, here’s one story among thousands that began this way.

One family’s ordeal

Unable to enter the United States and unwilling to return to El Salvador, the Yanes family waits in Mexico
by Sophia Lee
Post Date: February 25, 2019 - Issue Date: March 16, 2019

Kenny Yanes and his wife Ezequiel lived in a gang-infested, poverty-wrecked barrio in El Salvador. A full day’s labor in the fields earned them $7 each. “There’s no freedom,” Kenny told me. “The gangs watch every move you make. What kind of life is that? Forget about finding a job. Forget about living life. That alone should make anyone want to leave the country.”

But they stayed, because they’d heard horrific stories about the migrant’s journey to the United States. Throughout the years many Central Americans have headed north for a better life, and many have perished along the way. Drug cartels, bandits, and corrupt police extort, abuse, kidnap, rape, and murder migrants. Coyotes (smugglers) rob, abandon, or sell their clients to sex traffickers.

Last October a Facebook page, since deleted, and a WhatsApp group, “Caravana Santa Ana,” mobilized Salvadorans to head 2,700 miles to the Promised Land together in a caravan. Migrant caravans provide safety in numbers: With big numbers come media attention and international scrutiny, which pushes authorities to behave and evildoers to look for victims elsewhere.

When Kenny and Ezequiel heard about the upcoming caravan, they stuffed two changes of clothes into a backpack and scraped up all their cash—about $80 in all. Together with Kenny’s nephew Alexis and Ezequiel’s cousin Marcos (they only gave their middle names, stating fear of harm from authorities), they showed up on Oct. 31, 2018, at the capital of El Salvador and joined 2,000 others.

They began on foot: Most wore hats or draped T-shirts over their faces to keep the blazing rays away. They walked what seemed like endless miles, lying down when the sun set and continuing the journey when dawn broke.

A few days later, the caravan crossed the border to Guatemala, where the Yanes family hitched rides from passing vehicles. When they reached the Guatemala-Mexico border, the Guatemalan and Mexican police let them through to Chiapas. Throughout the trip, they relied on charity from local residents and priests. In some towns, people offered them tortillas, bread, snacks, and bottled water. In others, residents glared and slammed their doors. On those days, the Yaneses went hungry.

Their caravan did not take the shorter, northeastern route to Texas, which crosses precarious, crime-ridden Mexican states. It took the longer but safer northwestern route to reach Tijuana, which has more shelters and nonprofit volunteers than any other border city and is adjacent to California, a “sanctuary state.”

The Tijuana the Yanes family entered on Nov. 27 was a city already buckling under the burdens of housing thousands of migrants like the Yaneses. Ezequiel said she assumed when they reached Tijuana they’d breeze right through, just as they did at other border cities. Instead, “everything came to a halt,” Ezequiel said with a despondent smile: “I’m disillusioned.”

Following Their Stolen Resources by Karie Luidens

Migrant Caravan.jpg

The powers that be in the United States spent the last dozen decades royally exploiting the people of Central America. What options do they have now?

They could stay home and try to scrape by each day as they watch our corporations continue to deplete and pollute their countries. But to me it makes perfect sense that they would see how powerless they were there and instead follow their stolen resources to the U.S.

I mean, what would you do if you were in their position?

But that’s not the sort of empathetic thinking a lot of us are expressing toward would-be immigrants in the last few years.

We in the U.S. love eating Honduras for breakfast. For over a century now, we’ve been happy to take their soil, water, fruit, coffee, and minerals.

When it comes to taking their people, though: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems.”

We in the U.S. have profited so easily for so long because we’ve sent actual invading forces to Central America to prop up our commercial endeavors there. When the people whose countries we invaded started walking unarmed toward our land in search of better lives, though: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

We have not stopped eating Honduras for breakfast. The U.S. continues to exploit the land and people of Central America for our own benefit. We’ve done nothing to address the root causes that drive them to despair of the conditions at home and migrate north in hopes of finding refuge and opportunity here.

Instead, in an overwrought defensive frenzy, we’ve started deploying troops to our southern border to back up an ever-more-militarized branch of law enforcement. We’ve put up physical barriers as if to ward off an attacking army.

We took their land.

Then when they suffered as a result, we barred them from our land.

That’s where we are today.

The Products and Profits of Their Land Flowed Directly to the U.S. by Karie Luidens

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Suppose we reversed the clock a hundred and thirty years, back to the 1890s, when a greed-driven Gilded Age United States began to insert itself into Central America’s affairs.

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Suppose the U.S. never noticed that the continent’s long tail from Mexico to South America was rich in fertile, tropical land lined with easy seaports on both coasts from which to ship produce back to the States.

Suppose the politicians in D.C. weren’t tempted by the vulnerability of that land’s population, since it was governed by a collection of small, weak nation states that were still disheveled in the wake of throwing off Spanish colonial rule.

Suppose our government and the United Fruit Company never conspired to deploy a military-corporate complex to that foreign soil and begin feasting on its resources. Suppose U.S. forces didn’t commandeer huge swaths of territory, forcing people off their countries’ best farmland so that our private corporations could create sprawling banana and coffee plantations and toxic mining operations.

United Fruit Company cartoon.jpg

Suppose, once we’d usurped all of the region’s best natural resources, we hadn’t then implemented devastating free trade policies that ensured all the resulting revenue could flow unimpeded straight back to the U.S. forevermore.

If, over the last hundred and thirty years, the U.S. had minded its own business, the citizens of Central America might be just fine today. They’d still have access to their own fertile soil and clean water. They’d be in a position to manage their homeland’s natural resources in ways that benefited their own communities’ health and wealth. They’d be self-sufficient and in control of their own destinies.

But that’s not what happened.

As we’ve seen summarized in the last few articles and essays, what happened is this: those in power in the U.S. saw an opportunity to make money and decided to take it, the people whose lives and livelihoods were at stake be damned. Our government and corporations conspired to strip whole populations of their sustainable ways of life, rope them into the lowest ranks of an exploitative global economy, and rig the laws and regulations to ensure that all the products and profits of their land flowed directly to the U.S.

That’s why today so many people in Central America are destitute and desperate. Not because of some moral failing or lack of effort on their part. Because of the U.S. Because of us.

We Either Stay Home and Starve or We Make the Journey by Karie Luidens

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El Paso faith leaders travel to Guatemala for research

By: Susana Castillo
KTSM El Paso
Posted: Feb 21, 2019 07:12 PM MST

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) - El Paso faith leaders shared details about their visit to Guatemala in Mid-February. HOPE Border Institute, a non-profit, coordinated the visit to understand reasons behind an increase in Guatemalan immigrants coming to the US/Mexico border seeking asylum. […]

The group said families in poverty are being forced to flee to our border because they can no longer work the land and are looking for options to provide for their children.

"So why do you put your children through this? He said, we either stay home and starve or we make the journey and try to look for a better way of life," said Rev. Jose Morales from the Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

Hope Border Institute wants changes to take place to help people while they are in Guatemala so they don't feel forced to seek help in the U.S. The group will meet with lawmakers to try to find solutions.

Why So Many Are Coming by Karie Luidens

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The failure of neoliberalism

By John Tirman
The Boston Globe
JUNE 01, 2015

…politicians and activists argue about who and how many to let immigrate. Nativists howl about corruption of culture if they’re let in. Others worry that a humanitarian response, including permitting immigration or asylum, will only encourage more to come.

But few are asking why so many are coming. Why are so many traveling at great risk and expense to escape Libya, Syria, Mali, Eritrea, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico?

Many attribute the massive exodus into the Mediterranean as a consequence of violent actors. And many do migrate to escape civil war and repression. Likewise, the so-called war on drugs in Latin America has backfired; an illegal drug culture thrives, enforced by violence.

Much of the migration, however, results from unsustainable livelihoods, the disruption of traditional forms of agriculture, production, and government services that for decades provided adequate — in many cases, barely so — incomes in the developing world. The triumph of neoliberalism has changed all that. And such policies as “freeing” economies for direct foreign investment, movement of capital, deregulation, privatization, and reducing the size of the state were devised in Western capitals, London and Washington most prominently.

This neoliberal experiment has produced solid growth rates in some places, but the benefits tend to accrue to elites and are not widely distributed, leading to growing inequality — a growth of 11 percent in the income gap in middle- and low-income countries from the 1990s to the late 2000s, according to a UN study. Simultaneous cutbacks in education, health care, clean water availability, and the like, make life even harder for the marginalized. The demands of a globalized economy can have multiplier effects: Lack of employment opportunities for young men in particular can aid recruiters to drug gangs or jihadist organizations. The threats such groups convey is one reason people flee.

Yet a blithe narrative of free trade rules Washington and European politics, mainly due to the influence of those who benefit most — banks and energy companies, to name a couple. The downside of these policies — stubborn poverty, growing inequality, crime, and emigration — is not so apparent to those living in safety and prosperity. There’s little compassion for the victims of the globalized economy until hundreds are drowned by an overcrowded boat capsizing, or unaccompanied children appear at the border.

The politicians’ harsh responses — destroying boats or deporting children — are shocking. The impoverished and violent conditions of the migrants in their homelands, however, persist. And, desperate, they won’t stay there for long.

Displacing People From Their Rural Livelihoods by Karie Luidens

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What “Free Trade” Has Done to Central America

Warnings about the human and environmental costs of “free trade” went unheeded. Now the most vulnerable Central Americans are paying the price.

By Manuel Perez-Rocha and Julia Paley
Foreign Policy In Focus
November 21, 2014

In 2004 and 2005, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled Central America’s streets.

They warned of the unemploymentpovertyhungerpollution, diminished national sovereignty, and other problems that could result if DR-CAFTA were approved. But despite popular pressure, the agreement was ratified in seven countries—including Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

Ten years after the approval of DR-CAFTA, we are seeing many of the effects they cautioned about. […]

Contrary to the promises of U.S. officials—who claimed the agreement would improve Central American economies and thereby reduce undocumented immigration—large numbers of Central Americans have migrated to the United States, as dramatized most recently by the influx of children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras crossing the U.S.-Mexican border last summer [2013]. Although most are urgently fleeing violence in their countries, there are important economic roots to the migration—many of which are related to DR-CAFTA. […]

One of the most pernicious features of the agreement is a provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. […] These perverse incentives have led to environmental deregulation and increased protections for companies, which have contributed to a boon in the toxic mining industry—with gold at the forefront. A stunning 14 percent of Central American territory is now authorized for mining. According to the Center of Research on Trade and Investment, a Salvadoran NGO, that number approaches 30 percent in Guatemala and Nicaragua—and rises to a whopping 35 percent in Honduras. […]

Warnings about the crises that “free trade” would bring to Central Americans were, unfortunately, correct. Central America is facing a humanitarian crisis that has incited millions to migrate as refugees from violence and poverty, thousands of them children. One push factor is the environmental degradation provoked by ruthless mining corporations that are displacing people from their rural livelihoods. […]

We must work to help Central American people regain their livelihoods lost to ruthless extractive projects like mining. And we must change trade and investment agreements to stop these excessive lawsuits that devastate communities, the environment, and democracy itself.

Eating Honduras for Breakfast by Karie Luidens


So. Trump says the U.S.-Mexico border is in a state of emergency.

People who live near the U.S.-Mexico border say it is not.

Those who are knowledgeable about the historical context and the current realities on the ground say the true emergency is actually in the Central American countries from which the majority of border-crossers are fleeing, like Honduras.

Last week I drove along the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso to Antelope Wells to see with my own eyes the miles of remote desert where so many hundreds of these asylum seekers have crossed into our country in recent months. But that land is actually beside the point. Our national conversation is only fixated on the border because Trump has been banging his “wall” drum for the last few years as a way to rally his base.

If we really want to understand what’s going on in our borderlands—who’s trying to migrate to the U.S. and why—we should start at the beginning.

And the beginning is bananas and coffee. Because basically, for the last hundred and thirty years, we in the U.S. have been eating Honduras for breakfast.

How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration

Joseph Nevins
The Conversation
October 25, 2018 7.19am EDT

U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. […]

By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.” Over a few decades, U.S. capital also came to dominate the country’s banking and mining sectors, a process facilitated by the weak state of Honduras’ domestic business sector. This was coupled with direct U.S. political and military interventions to protect U.S. interests in 1907 and 1911. […]

The Reagan administration also played a big role in restructuring the Honduran economy. It did so by strongly pushing for internal economic reforms, with a focus on exporting manufactured goods. It also helped deregulate and destabilize the global coffee trade, upon which Honduras heavily depended. These changes made Honduras more amenable to the interests of global capital. They disrupted traditional forms of agriculture and undermined an already weak social safety net.

These decades of U.S. involvement in Honduras set the stage for Honduran emigration to the United States, which began to markedly increase in the 1990s.

In the post-Reagan era, Honduras remained a country scarred by a heavy-handed military, significant human rights abuses and pervasive poverty. Still, liberalizing tendencies of successive governments and grassroots pressure provided openings for democratic forces. […]

The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration has played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country. […]

The Trump administration’s recognition, in December 2017, of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s re-election—after a process marked by deep irregularities, fraud and violence. This continues Washington’s longstanding willingness to overlook official corruption in Honduras as long as the country’s ruling elites serve what are defined as U.S. economic and geopolitical interests.

Organized crime, drug traffickers and the country’s police heavily overlap. The frequent politically motivated killings are rarely punished. In 2017, Global Witness, an international nongovernmental organization, found that Honduras was the world’s deadliest country for environmental activists.

Although its once sky-high murder rate has declined over the last few years, the continuing exodus of many youth demonstrates that violent gangs still plague urban neighborhoods. […]

What the Trump administration will ultimately do with those who arrive at the U.S. southern border is unclear. Regardless, the role played by the United States in shaping the causes of this migration raises ethical questions about its responsibility toward those now fleeing from the ravages its policies have helped to produce.

You Want to See a Real Emergency? by Karie Luidens


You want to see a real emergency, Mr. President? Visit me in Honduras.

By Amelia Frank-Vitale
Washington Post
February 16

On Friday [2/15/19], President Trump declared a national emergency as a pretext to allow him to begin construction of a border wall. But the real national emergency is here, in Honduras.

I arrived [in September 2017] shortly before a likely fraudulent election installed Juan Orlando Hernández in a second, unconstitutional term as president. Rather than protest irregularities in the vote-counting process, the Trump administration congratulated Hernández on his victory.

Honduras was already in bad shape: a devastating hurricane in 1998; a coup d’etat in 2009; becoming the world’s most homicidal nation in 2010; and a long history of U.S. intervention. […]

The 2017 election, though, brought things to a head. There were massive protests, the country was shut down for more than a month, and at least 31 protesters were killed. Honduras has erupted in moments of insurrection since then, though the most visible aftereffects of the election have been a crackdown on dissidents, especially the young and students, and the caravans heading for the United States. People had staked their hope for a better future in a different electoral outcome. When that was taken from them, they went back to leaving the country.

Honduran migration isn’t new; what is new is that they are doing it publicly, in large groups, and asking, collectively, for protection. The real humanitarian crisis is that, mostly, Hondurans are denied this protection and deported. […]

Human history is one of migration; we are exceptionally good at moving around when the conditions for life become tenuous. Neither walls nor deserts nor oceans have ever deterred us from seeking safer horizons and better opportunities for survival.

Under these circumstances, Hondurans’ drive to seek safety elsewhere is not an emergency; that there may be no place in the world where they are allowed to find refuge is the real crisis.

This Is Not an Emergency by Karie Luidens

2019-02-21 - Alibi.JPG

On Wednesday evening, the Trump White House insisted, again, as always, that the U.S.-Mexico border is a “national emergency in plain sight.” (They illustrated the claim with a photo of the White House looking pretty removed from reality.)

On Thursday morning, Albuquerque’s alt weekly happened to offer the perfect response. Below is another affirmation of what people actually think here in the border state of New Mexico:

This is Not an Emergency

State sues over Trump’s power grab
By Carolyn Carlson
ALIBI V.28 NO.8 • FEB 21-27, 2019

In an effort to check the power of an absurd and dangerous president, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham along with Attorney General Hector Balderas led New Mexicans in joining 16 states that filed suit to block the Trump administration’s unconstitutional use of emergency powers to fund a border wall.

The complaint was filed on President’s Day [2/18/19] in US District Court for Northern California. […]

“There is zero real world basis for the emergency declaration, and there will be no wall,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. Lujan Grisham has challenged Trump's narrative of a security crisis on the border head-on. She recently withdrew most of the state's National Guard contingent, leaving a small group of troops along a well-traveled corridor to help cross-border migrants. The real emergency is the humanitarian crisis at the border, which most folks agree has been caused by Trump policies.

If That Isn’t a Crisis, Nothing Is by Karie Luidens

2019-02-20 - White House photo.jpg

Senator Martin Heinrich isn’t the only politician with my email address. For the last two years I’ve also regularly skimmed and deleted newsletters from President Trump’s White House, like the one below.

On those occasions when I make it to the bottom, I’m often fascinated by the juxtaposition of fearmongering rhetoric up top (illegal aliens! sex offenders! ONE WHOLE GANG MEMBER!) with a pleasant photo of the first lady or D.C. scenery underneath.

In that respect, the most recent edition on Wednesday evening did not disappoint. After paragraphs of grave “crisis” talk, the email’s concluding image is incongruous in every possible way: distant, like a fantasy world; whitewashed and surreal.

Actually, that’s not incongruous—I just described the email’s text as well as its image.

From: The White House <info@mail.whitehouse.gov>
Date: Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 4:20 PM
Subject: A national emergency in plain sight
To: <kluidens@gmail.com>

The White House • February 20, 2019

A national emergency in plain sight

Five days ago, President Donald J. Trump signed a Homeland Security appropriations bill that earned a number of important legislative victories for our country. At the same time, he used his legal authority as President to take executive action to address the immediate national security and humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border. 

“It’s very simple: We want to stop drugs from coming into our country. We want to stop criminals and gangs from coming into our country,” the President said Friday from the White House Rose Garden. “We don’t control our own border.”

The crisis is real. Pretending it doesn’t exist is an insult to those who face its consequences every day. “January saw a surprising surge of 22,000 more apprehensions of illegal immigrants at southwest border crossings over January 2018, prompting a key predictor to suggest that border officers will make over 600,000 apprehensions this year,” Paul Bedard reports for the Washington Examiner

Politicians and the media should listen to our experts in law enforcement. The lack of physical infrastructure at our southern border is continuously being exploited for illegal purposes, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials explain. To their point, take a look at a string of recent arrests along our border:

103 illegal aliens from Central America detained Monday morning

Two sex offenders arrested in separate weekend incidents  

Multiple criminal aliens arrested over the holiday weekend, including some with warrants and convictions for sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder

A convicted rapist caught in El Centro, California

A previously deported MS-13 gang member recently apprehended

Nearly $1 million of drugs seized in the Rio Grande Valley

Behind the numbers are real stories of suffering. When America can’t vet who crosses its border, our citizens, including legal immigrants, suffer. On Friday, one such “angel mom”—a legal immigrant whose only son was killed by someone here illegally—told CNN’s Jim Acosta something that every American should agree with: “We need to protect this country.”

Her son’s death was preventable. Our leaders had the power to stop it, and they chose not to. For years, Washington put political convenience over real national security.

If that isn’t a crisis, nothing is.

President Trump is keeping his promise to secure America’s border.

WatchThe border wall is already being built—ahead of schedule.

A Citizen Co-Sponsor of the REMOTE Act by Karie Luidens

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What a timely email I got from my U.S. Senator this morning. Sign me up, sir.

From: Martin Heinrich <info@martinheinrich.com>
Date: Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 9:29 AM
Subject: Will you become a citizen co-sponsor?
To: Karie Luidens <kluidens@gmail.com>

Unlike President Trump, I’m focusing on the real emergency at our Southern border: the tragic and preventable deaths of migrant children.

I want to tell you more about how the legislation I recently introduced will tackle this issue, but if you’re ready for progress on this issue, then please click here to become a citizen co-sponsor of the REMOTE Act: http://nm.martinheinrich.com/REMOTE-Act

The Trump administration’s immigration policies are forcing asylum seekers to attempt a dangerous journey of crossing between major ports of entry.

In recent months, the number of migrants attempting to cross our border in these remote areas has increased, but the amount of emergency personnel and medical equipment in these areas has largely remained stagnant.

The lack of resources has already led to the tragic deaths of minors. We cannot allow this public health crisis to continue.

That’s why I joined with fellow border state Senators to introduce the Remote, Emergency, Medical, Online Training, Telehealth, and EMT (REMOTE) Act. Please, join us by becoming a citizen co-sponsor today →


The REMOTE Act will ensure that DHS agents at the border have the resources to adequately care for migrants entering the United States in desolate, and often understaffed, areas.

Families seeking asylum from persecution and violence should not risk severe health problems, and even death, because of a lack of resources near our border. My legislation is a pragmatic and responsible way to address these unspeakable tragedies.

Please, help me spread the word about this legislation by adding your name as a citizen co-sponsor: http://nm.martinheinrich.com/REMOTE-Act

Thank you,


Please Send Emergency Medical Services by Karie Luidens


Southern New Mexico medical facilities strained to meet the needs of migrants

Lauren Villagran, Searchlight New Mexico
Published 11:58 a.m. MT Feb. 7, 2019

ANTELOPE WELLS - Half a dozen children gazed up at the camera, their eyes wide beneath hats and hoodies, hands buried in their pockets or nuzzled in the necks of their mothers. Floodlights illuminated some faces and left others in darkness.

It was after midnight in New Mexico’s remote Bootheel region, and with the temperature hovering near freezing, a Border Patrol agent snapped the photo. Nearly 150 miles away, the tiny emergency room of the Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City — the nearest 24-hour hospital — was on notice. Some of the children would need medical care for illness, others for injury. […]

Hospitals and clinics from Silver City to Deming, Lordsburg, and Alamogordo have treated [migrant] children for flu, dehydration, rashes, scabies, sprains and other ailments. Border Patrol reported that one of the adults in the group of 306 that arrived last week was suffering from a “flesh-eating bacteria,” or necrotizing fasciitis — an infection that rarely spreads person to person.

Dehydration, poor nutrition and harsh weather leave migrants susceptible to stomach viruses and the flu, and then there is the emotional trauma of leaving behind family and country. For the kids, “the risks are enormous,” said Marlene Baska, a physician assistant who runs a clinic in Animas — a Bootheel ranching town with a population of 267 — that sees children in Border Patrol custody. […]

On Dec. 26, Hidalgo County Manager Tisha Green fired off “an urgent request” to then governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state’s congressional delegation pleading for assistance.

“Our Hidalgo County Emergency Medical Services team consists of seven full-time employees and five volunteers” who cover 5,000 square miles, she wrote. “At the very least we can say they are stretched very thin. Please send emergency medical services to assist us with the overwhelming number of immigrants coming in daily.”

The 28th Large Group by Karie Luidens

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Large Groups of Aliens Continue to Illegally Enter at Antelope Wells

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Media Release
Release Date: February 11, 2019

ANTELOPE WELLS, N.M. – One minute past midnight on Monday, February 11, 2019, another large group of 330 illegal aliens were taken into custody by Border Patrol Agents working at Camp Bounds Forward Operating Base at the Antelope Wells Port of Entry.

This group, like others before, is comprised primarily of Central American families and unaccompanied juveniles. Border Patrol EMT’s provided initial medical screenings and determined that none of the subjects required immediate medical attention. This is an ongoing situation that Border Patrol Agents face in southern New Mexico: hundreds of parents and children being encountered by agents after having faced a dangerous journey in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers. This the 28th large group of over 100 people since the beginning of the fiscal year in this area alone in the El Paso Sector. Similar large groups are being encountered at other border locations as well.

Criminal organizations continue to exploit innocent human lives in order to enhance their illicit activities without due regard to the risks of human life. In most cases these smugglers never cross the border themselves in order to avoid apprehension.

Population: Please Line Up by Karie Luidens

Hamid Khaleghi Unsplash.jpg

What if I had stayed the night down at New Mexico’s southern border? Suppose I’d pitched my tent among the bunchgrass and tumbleweeds off the side of NM-81, at the edge of someone’s ranch just north of the Antelope Wells port of entry.

I’d probably have had a frosty, wind-tossed night alone under the Milky Way.

Unless, by chance, I was there on one of the nights when a large group of migrants crossed.

They’d come by bus on Carretera Federal 2, the Mexican highway that runs parallel to the border a couple miles to the south. Dozens of families, parents shushing their children, teens who’d traveled a thousand miles or more alone through Mexico. They’d be wearing sweatshirts and jackets, hats, but nothing heavy enough to guard against the dangerously cold desert air.

At first I wouldn’t realize they were out there, walking toward me through the sand. Then I’d hear not just the wind against my tent—not just coyotes rustling in the brush—but human voices in the distance. Some Spanish, some Q’eqchi’ or other Mayan languages. Whispers; a shout or two to call for help.

Antelope Wells, hardly a place, unincorporated land, forty-five miles south of the last populated place on the highway. Antelope Wells, population: 2—the two Customs and Border officers on duty. 

If I camped out there in the freezing night, on the edge of federal land or state highway or private ranch, my presence would increase the population by 50%. Antelope Wells, population: 3.

With each migrant slipping through the barbed wire fence from Mexico into New Mexico, the population would grow and grow. In a matter of minutes it would increase a hundredfold. Antelope Wells, population: please line up so we can count as we take you into custody.

Looking Out Across Expanses of Nothing by Karie Luidens


I spent just one long afternoon exploring New Mexico’s Bootheel; by the time I drove the hundreds of miles north toward home, the sun had set and the stars were out.

Even if I’d wanted to stay the night, where would I have slept? As far as I can tell, the only hotels there are way out on the Arizona border in an unincorporated community called Rodeo (pop. 101: Rusty’s RV Ranch, the Painted Pony Resort), or 92 miles north of Antelope Wells in Lordsburg, the county seat.

That’s Hidalgo County, which has a population of 4,894 over 3,446 square miles—1.2 people per square mile. Lordsburg is by far the largest city around: with 2,797 residents, it’s home to over half the county’s population.

I think the Hidalgo County official visitors page is so delightful, I’ll let it speak for itself:

Hidalgo County, also known as New Mexico’s Bootheel

Hidalgo County would classify as being "stuck in the past" in many ways. If you meet someone driving the opposite direction, we still do the "pass salute," the tip of the hand straightened up from the steering wheel to acknowledge friendliness. One visitor asked why people were giving him a signal when he met, thinking that there was some secret language he didn't know. The salute is just a greeting, like others around here-a nod, fingertips to the hat brim, a smile. Folks are friendly around these parts.

A lot of people work the land--either by raising animals or by growing crops. They are usually a bit dirty and dusty, but they won't apologize for it. The land here is cherished and kept for generations in a family, and having a bit of it on your boots or jeans is no shame.

Visitors often ask, "What do you DO around here for fun?" Catch a country dance, bird-watch, read, sing, ride a horse, shoot the bull. Many folks around here are very content with watching the sky or looking out across expanses of nothing surrounded by mountains for entertainment.

Antelope Wells is Hardly a Place by Karie Luidens

Antelope Wells Port of Entry.JPG

It didn’t make any sense for me to drive the last forty-five miles to Antelope Wells. There was nothing there for me to see—really, nothing. Antelope Wells is not a town, it’s unincorporated land. The only structure there is the Customs and Border facility. Its only inhabitants are a few rotating Customs and Border employees. It’s only open to non-commercial crossings from 10am to 4pm daily, and it’s the least trafficked of all forty-three ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Deming Headlight article already said it: Hachita was “the last populated place on the highway to the Antelope Wells port of entry.”

If you thought that description sounds extreme, another article in the same paper goes further: “Antelope Wells is hardly a place, other than for port infrastructure at the terminus of State Road 81.”

But I’d come this far in my journey along the U.S.-Mexico border. I wanted to go all the way and see that now-famous non-place with my own eyes. Breathe its sky, watch its dust blow, hear its grasses brushing. So I kept driving, and driving, and driving through all that empty ranch land. And finally, at the end of the forty-five mile road, there it was—the Antelope Wells port of entry.

As the speck of buildings grew on the horizon, I began to play a conversation in my mind. “Good afternoon, officer. No, I’m not planning to cross the border today. I actually forgot my passport, ha! Yes, I knew I didn’t have it before I came all this way. I knew I couldn’t cross. Why did I come? Oh, just to check out your facilities. See what it’s like here. Smell the cows and feel the wind blowing up from Mexico.”

I wondered how the Customs officer would react. Would he laugh? He—I pictured a he, for sure, in a uniform with a gun on his hip. Did Customs officers carry handguns, or just Border Patrol agents out on patrol? Regardless. Would he laugh, or would he be suspicious? I’ve been through enough Border Patrol checkpoints driving around Texas to know they don’t need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to glare and interrogate you like you’re a criminal suspect. But what would they suspect me of? Smuggling drugs, migrating illegally? This is where my whiteness, my blondness, my femaleness would all serve me well. Which is bullshit, since no matter my race or sex, I had every right to drive down New Mexico’s Bootheel. I was an American citizen on American soil, driving my own vehicle on a public road.

Still, the closer I got, the tenser I felt.

A quarter mile from the border, I pulled over. I turned off the engine. The sounds of the desert swirled through the car as I sat, paralyzed in thought.

Suddenly my phone vibrated. For the first time in hours, I had cell service: TELCEL 3G, one bar. The text message on my lock screen read “Welcome to Mexico.”

I laughed.

I took a photo of the Antelope Wells port of entry a thousand feet up the road.

Then I started the engine, glanced back at the absolute emptiness of the road behind me, and pulled a U-turn. Heading north again, I passed a sign as blue as the sky all around: “NEW MEXICO true WELCOMES YOU.” Only forty-five miles to the first populated place on the highway.

The Last Populated Place on the Highway by Karie Luidens

Columbus, NM.JPG

After just over a hundred miles speeding west on NM-9, I planned to turn south onto NM-81.

I couldn’t have missed it if I tried. Scrub, ranch, scrub, ranch—then suddenly, right at the junction, there were signs of human life.

Relatively speaking. It was so eerily empty and quiet, I couldn’t tell if anyone still lived in the handful of broken-down structures labeled Hachita. I looked it up later, when I had cell service again. Here’s what I found:

Bootheel residents in southwestern NM deal with surge of migrants

Blake Gumprecht, Las Cruces Sun-News
Published 11:16 a.m. MT Jan. 29, 2019

HACHITA - If you live in this tiny town at the entrance to New Mexico’s Bootheel region, population 34 (or 70, depending on the source), it’s easy to have a siege mentality. You have dogs. You erect a fence around your property.

You call the Border Patrol when you hear people rustling around in the abandoned double-wide next door.

This unincorporated community is the last populated place on the highway to the Antelope Wells port of entry, which has seen a surge in migrants apprehended after they cross the border illegally in recent months. Hachita is 45 miles north of the border.

So, as planned—I turned south at Hachita and drove the last forty-five miles to Antelope Wells.

New Mexico State Road 9 by Karie Luidens


It took me about two hours and forty-five minutes to drive from El Paso to the Antelope Wells port of entry.

As soon as I left the city limits, it was clear that the next hundred and fifty miles were going to be empty, empty, empty.

I lost cell service almost immediately.

In all my time on New Mexico State Road 9, which runs parallel to the U.S.-Mexico border, I think I saw a dozen or so other cars. Most were pickups. A few of the drivers, all men wearing cowboy hats, waved to me through their windshields as we passed each other. Twice I passed white Border Patrol SUVs, glowing white in the afternoon sun with solid green stripes on each side, far greener than anything in the terrain.

Otherwise it was just me and the pavement whipping along beneath my tires. I opened the windows to welcome the roar of mild February air, until a dust storm blew through, briefly swallowing everything in a swirl of opaque brown.

A couple times, where there was enough shoulder, I rolled to a slow stop, pulled off, and killed the engine.

The desert was so quiet, the hum of it seemed to grow louder the longer I stood listening.

Sand hissed as it rubbed and swirled through scrub and danced across the asphalt in pale ribbons.

The wind whistled. Dry bunchgrass flapped and shushed.

The odd piece of loose metal creaked in the distance, paused, creaked again, clanked softly: some strip of loose fencing from the barbed wire strung around endless ranches.

Tumbleweeds bounced and skittered across the road, the liveliest things in sight. The only creatures I saw in those hours were a few scatterings of black cattle, grazing and lounging indifferently.

As I drove, I knew the horizon on my left was Mexico. The border was never very far, often just a mile or two south of the road, but as the flatness began to undulate into larger and larger foothills, I only rarely caught sight of the low Normandy-style vehicle barriers that march along that otherwise imaginary boundary out here. They looked like a line of tiny black cross-stitches in the distance, or steel surgical staples. They were installed there to divide two countries, but whenever I glimpsed them I couldn’t help but feel they were suturing the land together.

West of El Paso by Karie Luidens

The city of El Paso, Texas, divides the U.S.-Mexico border neatly in two. It’s not just that it’s situated about halfway along the border’s length, although it is. It’s that it marks a turning point in the nature of the border.

Travel east of El Paso and you can follow the Rio Grande as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico, tracing the ripples of Texas’s southern outline as it goes. The land just past the city is wide open grassland, dry but not too dry—riparian. Its banks are lined with pecan orchards, cotton fields, cattle ranches, and fishermen. Eventually the current carves into the sheer rock walls of Big Bend National Park’s gorgeous canyons.

Travel west of El Paso, and the border is practically a straight shot to the Pacific Ocean. It doesn’t follow any sinuous natural feature; it’s all straight lines and angles set by governments and treaties in the mid to late 1800s. They were drawn by politicians in offices over a thousand miles away, and on a map they look tidy. On the ground, though, those lines cut through rolling deserts and rugged mountains. They divide the land arbitrarily. Or at least they claim to—the land doesn’t know or care that we think there are lines across it.

That’s the stretch of remote land where large groups of asylum seekers from Central America have been crossing lately.

That’s the stretch of border that interests me right now.

That’s the stretch where I traveled next this past weekend: west of El Paso.

East of El Paso: the Rio Grande divides Mexico on the far side from the U.S. in the foreground.

West of El Paso: the view as I set out on New Mexico State Road 9.

West of El Paso: the view as I set out on New Mexico State Road 9.