Last week I spent several days in El Paso, Texas, my hometown, giving some talks on my new book Blowout! Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice (University of North Carolina Press). I'll write about this book in another blog, but what I want to relate in this one is my observations of conditions along this section of the U.S.-Mexico border.
For one, I was reminded of what a huge trans-border metropolitan region the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez area constitutes. El Paso now has a population of more than 700,000 while Juárez has one of close to 2 million.
Since my last visit two years ago, I felt this huge population. El Paso seemed more crowded and with much more traffic especially on the freeway where there is now bumper-to-bumper congestion.
Perhaps the key reason for this increase in population and traffic has to do with thousands of Juárez residents crossing over to live in El Paso in order to get away from the increased and bloody violence on the Mexican side due to the drug wars. Many of these people are middle-class and upper-class who have the means to buy or rent homes in El Paso. Many are also dual citizens, having been born in El Paso but raised in Juárez. It appears that most maintain their businesses and even professions on the Mexican side but live and raise their families in El Paso.
Despite the fear-mongering by many conservatives in the U.S. that we have lost control of our borders and that the drug violence has spilled over to the U.S., the fact is that El Paso has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.
At the same time, I learned from my good friend Msgr. Arturo Bañuelas, the pastor of St. Pius X Church in El Paso, some disturbing information. He told me that many of the drug lords actually live in El Paso and live there with impunity. He has heard stories of some of them going into stores and buying up to $20,000 of goods with their drug money. Who but drug lords have such money to go on such spending sprees? But because El Paso merchants benefit from these questionable sales, they do not report these "consumers" to the police or FBI.
This is unacceptable. We cannot provide a safe haven for these drug lords.
For El Paso, this is a false prosperity built on the destruction of lives on both sides of the border due to the use of illicit drugs and, of course, the murder of thousands on the Mexican side of the border.
I always enjoy returning to my hometown of El Paso, but I came away this time disturbed about such recent changes.