By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
For his part, Cory Roddey has never crossed the border — despite his goal of pursuing a career with the Border Patrol. “Truth is, I have no desire to go to Mexico at all,” he says dismissively. “I just don’t find it very interesting. I like it here, and I can’t find any reason to go over there.
“Most of my friends have the same views as me,” he continues. “And if they don’t, they’re not really my friends.”
Even for Explorers who are still unsure about their career direction, the Border Patrol — stadium lights, camera-festooned blimps and all — is a reassuring presence. “They’re doing their job,” says Courtney Roberts, her lips drawn taut. “They know what their job is, and they’re doing it well.”
JUST A FEW MILES SOUTH — in Naco, Mexico — Dulce Medina feels a bit differently about the Mexican law-enforcement officials entrusted with protecting her. “They’re paid off,” hisses the 15-year-old in her machine-gun Spanish. “I don’t use any drugs at all, and yet I know where to find it all. And we’re supposed to believe that the police — whose job it is to fight this — don’t know where this is going on?”
Dulce lives on the bedraggled outskirts of “South” Naco — a town with the unfortunate meaning of “tacky” in Mexican slang. There is one main street, which runs due north through town until it slams into the border inspection station, where it stops.
In Naco, Mexico, the border is where everything stops.
The windswept main street is punctuated by anything-goes farmacias, where Americans come to get prescriptions filled on the cheap. A dog sleeps on the steps of a dangerous-looking nightclub, while caloric waves waft off the near-boiling asphalt.
Each day, Dulce has to pass over a bridge on her way to junior high. Below the bridge, as she points out, the river is dry as Mars — lined with crumpled Tecate cans, tar-stained Marlboro filters and discarded car parts. “Under the bridge used to be a safe place for illegal immigrants to spend the night before they crossed into America,” Dulce says, her face illuminated by her million-watt smile.
“The immigrants were never harmful — they just rested here,” she remembers. “There used to be lots of clothes on the riverbed left over from them. But now it’s different.” Her smile disappears. “Now it’s a haven for drug dealers and addicts.”
Bielcka Ramirez, valedictorian of her ninth-grade class, is blunt about the unjust and broken border. “There needs to be another system,” she says. At 15, Bielcka knows more about immigration policy than most people twice her age. “We have to find a way to avoid so many deaths, kids being raped, families left behind without a father or mother.”
She shakes her head regretfully. “It shouldn’t be this way.”
Bielcka and Dulce are both honor students at Technical Junior High No. 29, just three blocks south of the border, where Gerardo Moreno has been a teacher and administrator for more than 20 years. “This town is like a trampoline for immigrants looking to get to the other side,” Moreno says, flashing a silver tooth and eyeing the schoolyard full of pupils. The girls chatter conspiratorially, sucking at sweaty soda cans. The boys play basketball under the cerulean sky, faint brush strokes of mustaches on their upper lips.
Naco, Mexico, has long been a staging ground for border hoppers. Because of the Huachuca Mountains encircling the city, immigrants believe it’s easier to avoid the blimps and security cameras used by the U.S. Border Patrol and slip into America de alambre — or through the wires.
The problem would be less acute if immigrants simply came to Naco and stayed a day or two while arranging for a coyote to sneak them across the border. But because of a 72-hour special visa granted to permanent residents, many would-be immigrants stay much longer.
Mexicans who have lived in Naco for three years are granted the visa, allowing them to visit America for 72 hours at a time with relative ease. Most local teens use their visa to shop in U.S. stores like Safeway and Wal-Mart, where basic goods are often cheaper than in Mexico.
Moreno says the visa causes a “floating population” — a caste of people with no intention of planting roots or joining the community, who are simply waiting for their paperwork to go through. He estimates that 20 percent of the city falls into such a category.
Once they get their visa, “then that’s it — they go,” he says. Kids come to school one day, and the next they vanish.
Border teens — on both sides — grow up understanding the risk involved in crossing illegally. Bielcka, however, says most immigrants who come from other parts of Mexico are completely clueless about just how dangerous it can be.
“In reality, it’s not that easy to get to the other side when you’re undocumented,” she says. “These immigrants get here completely ignorant about the human smugglers who intend to take advantage of them, steal from them. They end up going home worse off than when they got here.”
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