North to Colorado: Nuevo Casas Grandes to Juarez
December 8, 2005
Editor’s note: Mexico correspondent Alexis Charbonnier visited some of the cities and towns of Mexico with heavy migration to Colorado. The following accounts were gleaned from Mexicans who emigrate north, as well as those who remain behind.Nuevo Casas GrandesIt’s dawn in Nuevo Casas Grandes, but on the main plaza, farmer José Angel Acosta, 57, is already hard at work, selling fruit and vegetables out of his truck bed. He grows chilies – called “chile sandía” – and watermelons, and also sells apples and peaches. At the packing plant, chilies get 13 cents a pound. Peaches and apples fetch 21 cents a pound; watermelons sell for 6 cents a pound.”The situation is really depressing,” Acosta said. “I don’t have machinery or irrigation. Besides, lots of products come in from the U.S. Their apples are cheaper, but lower quality.”Acosta has brothers in Farmington, N.M., and a son in Phoenix. He worked construction in Phoenix for eight years. He said Colorado, Washington and Arizona are top destinations, and many people are emigrating from the Tarahumara Mountains above Madera.”People have been going north for about 50 years. There’s no work here. People emigrate out of necessity. I went north too.” He adds a plea:”Please, help us get Chihuahua annexed to the U.S.! Aspen is a neighborhood of Casas Grandes anyway!”JanosThis blazing desert outpost is where illegal immigrants split between those going through the deadly Sonoran Desert into Arizona and those choosing the safer – but more closely guarded – border between Palomas and New Mexico. “This is a very important crossroads,” said Benito Estrada, 70, a telephone booth operator. “These are the last passengers the buses pick up. Then it’s straight on to Albuquerque and Denver.”Estrada operates three van trips weekly to Denver. The cost is $80, and it’s often full. There are five van companies in town going to Colorado, plus buses coming through, so you can get to Denver pretty much anytime, day or night.”Five hundred illegals are going through Palomas every day,” said Antonio Chacón Echerivel, 51, director of public safety for the Janos Police Department. “Janos is on the Agua Prieta-Ciudad Juárez route, so many migrants come through here. They’re afraid of dying in the Arizona desert, where the smugglers abandon or rob them.”Most cross by way of Las Chepas, near Palomas. If they’re caught, they’re just sent back to where they were found, then try again the next night, according to Chacón. Most migrants head for Hatch, N.M., to work in the chili and watermelon fields. Some Mexicans from the south do piece work on local Mennonite farms, harvesting onions and watermelons, or potatoes in Pancho Villa. They also harvest chilies and peaches. Local hamlets such as Colonia Fernández Leal and Las Virginias have many migrants in Colorado, where Chacón has lived.”I was in Denver for eight months,” he said. “There was nothing but Mexicans. There are restaurants, bakeries and clothing stores. There’s plenty of work.”Hugo González Zapata, 42, a traffic cop from Nuevo Casas Grandes, said migrants from Veracruz and Oaxaca brave robberies, rapes and the U.S. authorities and go straight for the big bucks.”Oaxacans are the hardiest workers,” he said.Felipe Flores Fonseca, 23, a small-claims judge, has also been analyzing migrants passing through the border area. He said they come from Aguascalientes, Durango and Zacatecas; Delicias, Chihuahua, is also a big source of emigration. Many from Nuevo Casas Grandes and Janos head for Greeley; Flores estimates 20 percent of Janos’ population is in the U.S.Echoing an opinion voiced in Zacatecas, Flores said: “The further north you go, the more you get paid. People are going further and further north.”Ciudad Juárez/El PasoAs the bus eats up the last miles of Highway 2 blacktop through the barren Chihuahua desert, heading due east, the Franklin Mountains above El Paso appear shimmering on the horizon, the first vision of the American Dream. Suddenly, the bus is traversing Ciudad Juárez’s shantytowns and junkyards, shaky ramparts on the desert’s shifting edge. The contrast is striking between the mostly rural, sometimes colonial, often beautiful communities on the road northward and the hustling, bustling, edgy border metropolis of Ciudad Juárez – a place where it’s best to come and go, not linger.At the end of a long street lies the international bridge. With an American passport, it takes less than a minute to get over the border; with a tourist visa, a little longer. Without any papers at all, it may take several days, a harrowing trek through a lethal desert or a frantic wade across the Rio Grande under the Border Patrol searchlights.El Paso is one of the poorest cities in the U.S., and the downtown area is grimy by U.S. standards, but there’s no missing the high-rise buildings, late-model cars and fast food restaurants. America and its overwhelming abundance beckon. For the U.S. citizen, legal immigrant or visa-holding visitor, the hardest part is over. For the illegal immigrant, the hardest part is yet to come.