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A Smaller Delegation

Max Powers - Mon, 03/22/2021 - 8:25pm
I have not posted because there is not much to post about. Really. Between Wuhan and Winter Storm Uri?, expectations are kinda low as to what can or cannot happen in Austin. But that being said, they still gotta do redistricting. And your El Paso House Delegation might lose a... Max Powers
Categories: Local Blogs

Border travel restrictions in Detroit and El Paso show the uneven impacts of COVID-19

Borderzine - Fri, 03/19/2021 - 12:52pm

By René Kladzyk / El Paso Matters Nathaly Gonzalez crosses from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez a couple times a week. She brings groceries to her grandparents — they prefer the bulk foods sold on the U.S. side. She visits her brother and takes her dog to the vet.

Gonzalez and her mother are dual U.S.-Mexican citizens and live in El Paso; her brother and grandparents are Mexican citizens and live in Ciudad Juárez.

Things have changed significantly for Gonzalez and her family since the COVID-19 travel restrictions went into effect on March 21, 2020, but she still crosses with ease, regardless of whether her reasons for crossing could be defined as “essential.”

“I’ve rarely had any issues with (Customs and Border Protection),” Gonzalez said.  “And then crossing from El Paso to Juárez nobody really asks you anything. … I think my situation is very common here in El Paso.”

Nathaly Gonzalez drives through the security gate in the Juárez neighborhood where her brother lives. Gonzalez crosses the border into Juárez to see family members and deliver goods that they used to buy in El Paso before the border restrictions began a year ago. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The COVID-19 border travel restrictions have only been partly enforced on the southern border of the United States. For Mexican nationals with tourist visas, like Gonzalez’s brother, the border has been effectively closed. But for U.S. passport-holders, although travel is technically restricted to “essential” purposes, “non-essential” crossing has continued with minimal obstruction. 

In Detroit, 1,700 miles from El Paso, border crossing enforcement at the port of entry into Canada has been a wholly different story.

“Canada’s just been much more aggressive and much more conservative regarding the border during the pandemic than the U.S. has,” said Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University.

This more stringent approach by Canada has resulted in starkly different numbers for the reduction of border crossings between northern and southern United States ports of entry over the past year. While border crossings for pedestrians, passenger vehicles, and buses at the Canadian border were lowered by between 91% and 99% last year, on the Mexico border they lowered by a far smaller margin: between 35% and 68% depending on the type of crossing.

“Our approach is uniform at both borders,” said Roger Maier, spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection, noting that the travel restrictions are in place in order to “fight the spread of COVID.”

Although enforcement has been applied evenly by the United States, differential approaches by Canada and Mexico carry profound implications for U.S. border communities: economically, culturally and in terms of infectious disease.

The rationale for the border closure

In March 2020 the Department of Homeland Security announced that “in order to limit the further spread of coronavirus, the U.S. has reached agreements with both Canada and Mexico to limit all non-essential travel across borders.” Since then, the travel restrictions have been extended month after month over the past year.

Gonzalez said she thinks the border should have reopened by now, noting how hard it is for mixed-citizenship families like hers. When asked whether she thinks COVID-19 travel restrictions were worth it, she said “maybe at first, but not anymore.”

Some research has indicated that although border travel restrictions were effective in the early days of the pandemic (particularly when coupled with rigorous additional methods like testing, contact tracing, and quarantining), they became less effective over time.

“In three years, five years, when we do a post-mortem of COVID wins and losses, there’s going to be a lot of controversy as to, did our targeted interventions actually achieve the desired outcomes?” said Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist and El Paso physician.

Uneven COVID-19 severity among border communities

Looking at differential enforcement of border travel restrictions may offer insight into the drivers of infection rates in border communities, Alozie said.

El Paso-Juárez and Detroit-Windsor have some similarities as parallel high-population border metropolises, but had vastly different COVID-19 outbreak severity this past year.

El Paso and Detroit are the number one and number two least racially diverse cities in the United States, both with minority racial and ethnic populations in the majority. Both cities have median incomes well below the national average, and poverty rates well above the national average. Both El Paso County and Wayne County also have high levels of social vulnerability, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index, which measures a community’s ability to mitigate suffering and economic loss during a disaster.

Wayne County is the most populous county in Michigan; its county seat is the city of Detroit.

Total COVID-19 cases were 150 percent higher on a per capita basis in El Paso County than in Wayne County, and total COVID-19 deaths were 20 percent higher. This is a simplified comparison because Detroit is a multi-county urban area. However, because Wayne County had a more severe COVID-19 toll than other suburban counties in Detroit, the discrepancy in overall COVID-19 severity between the two border communities is likely even greater.

“There seems to be an association between the lack of reduction in border traffic and the fact that we just had much more cases and deaths than the comparative city that’s also sitting on the border such as Detroit,” Alozie said. “It’s not causal — you can’t say one led to the other — but there does seem to be a clear data association when Detroit was having 95-99% reduction in traffic and here in El Paso it was only 60 to 70%.”

The potential mitigation of COVID-19 spread among border communities made the travel restrictions worth it, even if it wasn’t a 100% stopgap, said Eduardo Herrera, secretary of health for the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

“We do know that very great damage has been caused to the economy, but decisions had to be made to control the pandemic. And both Juárez and El Paso had the highest rates of infection of the virus, much stronger than other cities throughout the United States and throughout Mexico,” Herrera said.

The economic impact of border restrictions

The way that border travel restrictions affected the local economies of border communities was also uneven, largely tied to the ways the restrictions were enforced.

“The networks are reacting in totally different ways between the two sides,” Francesco Cappellano said, noting that Mexican border cities have been able to be more economically resilient to the COVID-19 border travel restrictions.

Cappellano, a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, has been conducting research since 2017 comparing border communities of the San Diego/Tijuana region with the Washington State/ British Columbia region.

He said that varying pandemic responses by the three nations on a spectrum of strictness to laxness (Canada being the most stringent, the U.S. in the middle with an “ambivalent attitude,” and Mexico the most relaxed), has meant that the pressures of the border closure are experienced differently by different border communities.

The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, is one of the busiest land border crossings in the United States, accounting for 27 percent of the $400 billion in annual trade between the United States and Canada. (Laura Finlay/Special to El Paso Matters)

For El Paso and Juárez, Cappellano’s assessment that the Mexican side is more economically resilient holds true, said Eduardo Ramos, president of Juárez’s combined chambers of commerce.

“The main victims of this are El Paso owners of commerce. Because El Paso depends (on shoppers) from Mexico,” Ramos said, explaining that the same is not true in reverse. “Juárez is more resilient than El Paso.”

Ramos said that he has observed few business closures during the pandemic, and emphasized that sales around Christmastime in Juárez were better this year than they had been in past years.

In El Paso, total small business revenues decreased by 32 percent when comparing March 2021 to January 2020, and 25 percent of small businesses closed during the same period, according to Track the Recovery.

Tom Fullerton, economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, agreed that the economic impacts of the border travel restrictions have been far more detrimental for El Paso than Juárez.

“It is a lot easier for U.S. citizens to cross the bridge since they’re not being stopped and questioned as they go into Mexico, so they’re probably still buying close to the same amount of items in Juárez that always would, but it’s not happening in the reverse direction,” Fullerton said.

“As a consequence of that, we’re probably observing one, a higher rate of business closures in El Paso; two, a higher rate of retail space vacancies; and three, lower rents per square foot for commercial real estate.”

A sign in southwest Detroit points toward the port of entry into Canada. (Laura Finlay/Special to El Paso Matters)

Other economic impacts of the border travel restrictions will be difficult to measure, said Bill Anderson, director of the Cross-Border Institute in Windsor, Canada.

The deterioration of in-person business relationships and what that will mean for cross-border economic trust is a big issue, he said.

“The relationship here on this border is kind of personal. People know each other, they talk to each other a lot, they physically go back and forth across the border. And being separated for that long, it just seems to me it’s gonna have some sort of effect in the long-term in terms of the intensity of the economic relationship, that degree of integration across the border,” Anderson said.

Like El Paso-Juárez, the sister cities of Detroit and Windsor also have extensive manufacturing sectors, particularly connected to the automotive industry. Detroit-Windsor and El Paso-Juárez are also interconnected on this supply chain, with some Detroit-based companies expanding production to factories in border communities like El Paso-Juárez.

The incalculable toll on cross-border families

The cross-border patterns of Nathaly Gonzalez and her family are far from unique in El Paso-Juárez.

“It’s just normal,” Dania Gobea said, referring to frequent border crossing between El Paso and Juárez among families and friend groups. Gobea is currently a student at UTEP, but lives in Juárez. As a student, she has an “essential” purpose for continuing to cross, but said she has still had difficulties with CBP agents at the bridge because she is a Mexican citizen.

“It’s (more) normal for people in El Paso to come easily (to Juárez), than us to go in El Paso because they ask us questions when we go there,” she said.

Hugo Gonzalez reaches out to help his sister, Nathaly, with the bags she has brought from El Paso to his home in Juárez. Hugo, a Mexican national with a tourist visa, has not been able to shop or visit family in El Paso in a year. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Anderson said the Detroit-Windsor area also has a significant amount of families that are spread out across both sides of the border, particularly among the area’s large Middle Eastern immigrant population. 

“One of the things that binds Detroit and Windsor together is the Middle Eastern community–  particularly the Arab community, and you know they always say about Detroit, ‘the largest Arab population outside the Middle East,’ and the biggest immigrant group in Windsor is Lebanese,” Anderson said, noting that many Arab and Lebanese families in the area have family members on both sides of the border.

Shoppers enter Al-Haramain International Food in Hamtramck, Michigan. Hamtramck, a municipality located within the city of Detroit, is an enclave of diverse immigrant populations. In 2015, the city appointed the first Muslim-majority city council in the U.S. (Laura Finlay/Special to El Paso Matters)

Canada has implemented border travel restriction exemptions for extended family members and “compassionate” reasons, for example in the case of a dying friend or a significant other who is a Canadian citizen. Although these enable some U.S. citizens under certain circumstances to travel to Canada for “non-essential” reasons, they are nonetheless reflective of the far greater limitations for crossing the northern border of the United States, as compared to the southern border.

“Another major difference between the two borders is Canada’s two-week quarantine requirement, which obviously Mexico doesn’t have, so that’s huge,” said Laurie Trautman, from the Border Policy Research Institute.

“I know a lot of people whose kids or parents live in Canada — they would technically be allowed to cross because they’re immediate family, but they’re supposed to quarantine for two weeks, so that in and of itself severely limits cross-border travel even from people that are able to go,” she said.

In that sense, familial barriers of the border closure are applied more stringently on the northern border than the southern border.

Nonetheless, border travel restrictions are acutely felt by families in El Paso-Juárez, even if enforcement of the restrictions is one-sided.

“If it was blocked both ways I have no idea what we would do,” Gonzalez said, describing all the ways her family has adapted because not everyone can cross freely.

“I just wish the borders were open,” she said. “There’s a lot of implications of closing the border, especially here. And I think they should be able to open now.”

UPDATE: On Thursday, after this story was published, Mexico announced that it would begin enforcing a restriction on non-essential travel across its northern and southern borders.

Cover photo: Vehicles line up on Avenida Juárez at the foot of the Paso del Norte International Bridge on March 10. Despite COVID-19 travel restrictions, thousands of people cross each day between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

This story was produced as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a binational partnership of news organizations in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.
Categories: Local Blogs

A timeline of the pandemic in the Borderland

Borderzine - Fri, 03/19/2021 - 12:18pm

On March 13, 2020, the first confirmed COVID-19 case in El Paso was reported. Two days later, the first case was found in Ciudad Juárez. On March 21, 2020, the United States and Mexico agreed to close the border to all but essential traffic, disrupting life in the Paso del Norte region.

In the year since the pandemic’s arrival, thousands of people in both Ciudad Juárez and El Paso have died of COVID-19. Schools have shuttered. Businesses have struggled.

This timeline, produced as part of the Puente Media Collaborative, looks back at crucial moments in the past year.


Cover photo: People lined up on Jan. 19 at the El Paso County Coliseum to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of University Medical Center of El Paso)

Una cronología de la pandemia de Borderland

El 13 de marzo de 2020 se informó el primer caso confirmado de COVID-19 en El Paso. Dos días después, se detectó el primer caso en Ciudad Juárez. El 21 de marzo de 2020, los Estados Unidos y México acordaron cerrar la frontera a todo el tráfico menos esencial, interrumpiendo la vida en la región del Paso del Norte.

En el año transcurrido desde la llegada de la pandemia, miles de personas tanto en Ciudad Juárez como en El Paso han fallecido de COVID-19. Las escuelas han cerrado. Las empresas han tenido problemas.

Esta cronología, producida como parte del Puente Media Collaborative, repasa los momentos cruciales del año pasado. Esta cronología fue producida en parte de Puente News Collaborative, una asociación binacional de organizaciones de noticias en Ciudad Juárez y El Paso.

Foto de portada: Una enfermera prepara una vacuna COVID-19 en el centro de la ciudad cerca del Aeropuerto Internacional de El Paso. (Foto cortesía de la ciudad de El Paso)

Categories: Local Blogs

Monterrey antes de la Macroplaza

Chica Regia: Una chica regia - Thu, 03/18/2021 - 10:13pm

Recuerdo que mi papá tenia una cámara Super 8 y cuando estaba pequeña nos ponía películas y también nos grababa mucho. Se me hacia muy curioso ver películas con el proyector del Super 8, porque no producía sonido. Papá estudió Comunicaciones, y siempre le gustó mucho el cine y durante

The post Monterrey antes de la Macroplaza appeared first on Chica Regia.

Categories: Local Blogs

Binational news collaboration launches to explore important issues for El Paso-Juárez

Borderzine - Thu, 03/18/2021 - 12:40pm

A unique binational news collaboration will begin publishing stories this week about significant issues facing El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

The partnership, called Puente News Collaborative, will begin with a two-week series of stories that look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our region. This month is the first anniversary of the arrival of COVID-19 in our region, as well as the resulting restrictions on border crossings that disrupted life in our region.

The Puente News Collaborative includes news organizations from both sides of the border: La Verdad in Ciudad Juárez; and ABC 7, El Paso Inc., El Paso Matters, El Paso Times, Univision 26, KTEP public radio and Borderzine as part of the UTEP multimedia journalism program in El Paso.

The collaboration is made possible by financial support from Microsoft as part of its efforts to preserve and protect journalism and local newsrooms. In December, partners in the collaboration shared an El Paso Times story about the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program that was published in both English and Spanish.

Because Ciudad Juárez and El Paso are so closely linked, the Puente News Collaborative will approach stories from a binational perspective. We will look at how events impact our region and look for binational approaches to addressing events and issues.

In the coming months, Puente News Collaborative will explore immigration, drugs, security and other issues that impact our region. The partners also will work together on important breaking news stories.

We believe this binational, collaborative approach to news will provide border residents with a deeper understanding of the issues in our region. It will strengthen journalism and enhance democracy on both sides of the border.

Cover photo: The Paso del Norte Bridge seen from Ciudad Juárez’s Presidencia Municipal, with New Mexico’s Mount Cristo Rey in the background. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Categories: Local Blogs

Fort Bliss Nazis Launched A Rocket Towards Juarez

El Paso Politics - Thu, 03/18/2021 - 12:22pm
It was 7:30 local time in El Paso on May 29, 1947. Crews at White Sands missile range were preparing to launch a Hermes II two-stage rocket. The Hermes II research project […]
Categories: Local Blogs

The Day Ciudad Juarez Was Shot Down

EPN - Border Analysis - Thu, 03/18/2021 - 12:04pm
It was a busy day on April 7, 1961 at the Biggs Airforce Base on El Paso. Crews were busy preparing a giant Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber for takeoff. As it was in 1961, the B-52 remains in service today as a deterrent to China and Russia. The bomber, which first entered service in 1951,… Read More The Day Ciudad Juarez Was Shot Down
Categories: Local Blogs

Lockdown was a drag; An interview with Borderland queen Rumor

Borderzine - Wed, 03/17/2021 - 8:29am

El Paso — Bar shutdowns, curfews and stay home orders to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the borderland affected the way many El Pasoans worked. That includes performers such as drag queens who had steady gigs prior to the pandemic, but lost income when they could no longer perform in person.

“It’s affected me in a way where I do not have that extra income anymore,” said Alexander Wright, who performs in bars and nightclubs as “Rumor.” She, like many drag queens, performs as a second job rather than as a primary source of income.

“Fortunately, I do have a full-time job so I do not rely on drag to go ahead and pay for my stuff, per se.”

Wright works as a customer service representative for a staffing agency during the day and does drag as Rumor as a side venture.

El Paso is not really a place where drag can be a full-time job or primary income source according to Rumor.

“You can’t really live off of tips and what the bars pay you. At least not here” she said.

The pandemic also means fewer expenses for drag queens. “For the most part I have not had the extra income, but it’s good because drag is not cheap,” Rumor said. “To purchase hair and wigs and material gets pretty expensive, so it kind of balances out.”

Staying home more and and doing fewer performances has also affected her physically. Almost nightly drag performances had become a fitness routine for Rumor. “It’s affected me in a way where I’ve actually gained weight because I perform so often and I’m finally able to relax a little bit.”

But that pandemic has not stopped drag queens – including Rumor – from putting out content and virtual performances for audiences.

“I’ve done some here in El Paso, for a charity event. This last one I submitted my video for was the Borderland Rainbow Center, for their online Giving Day event.” Borderland Rainbow Center, El Paso’s only LGBTQ+ community center, helped toward raising their $17,000 goal for the October event.

A professional shot of Rumor

Rumor also co-headlined at EPIC Nightclub’s Halloween show, hosted by her fellow drag queen, friend and event coordinator Malina Rae.

“Even if we’re doing way less shows, we’ve still been able to do some shows like in October, when we’ve been given the go ahead”. Shows, however, observe the limited capacity due to the pandemic, meaning less tips and a smaller audience for the queens.

But Rumor also expanded her audience beyond the Borderland during the pandemic. “I’ve done a couple of virtual drag shows. I did some for organizations in other states like Minnesota and Missouri.”

She recently created a video for Boylesque Michigan – a drag troupe in Ypsilanti, Michigan – of her doing a lip-synch performance in downtown El Paso of Memory a song from the musical Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Categories: Local Blogs

Vulnerable transgender asylum seekers create shelter together in Juárez

Borderzine - Tue, 03/16/2021 - 4:05pm

This story was originally published in Borderless Magazine and is republished with permission.

On a warm February afternoon, Susana Coreas stands outside the door of Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez holding a phone in one hand and a 50 peso bill in the other.

As she hands the money to two women leaving the building, Coreas pauses her phone call and greets the visitor at her door.

“Adelante, esta es su casa,” she says. Go ahead, this is your home.

The 40-year-old knows just how precious a home like Casa de Colores can be for her community. A transgender woman, Coreas fled violence in her home country of El Salvador with the hope of receiving asylum in the United States. She wants to be reunited with her 16-year-old son who lives in Minnesota.

“I have been dressing since I was 13, no one from my family knows, no one from my hometown knows, no one from my previous job ever knew,” Coreas said in Spanish. “Coming here was the only opportunity to truly express myself and to see my son. That is my goal in life.”

Susana Coreas, 40, is a trans woman from El Salvador. While she waits for her turn to cross into the United States and meet with her son, she has found a community full of support in Casa de Colores. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

Here is a refuge for Coreas and other transgender and LGBTQ women. For many, it represents a place of limbo between the trauma of their old lives and the hope of refuge in the United States.

A former low-end hotel, Casa de Colores has long corridors with endless doors ajar. Behind every one you can glimpse makeup on dressers, rainbow pride flags hanging on the walls and collections of wigs of all styles.

Inside the building, someone is playing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” on their phone and three chubby dogs — Trixie, Mac and Alba — are wagging their tails contentedly. Although the walls are worn, the building is immaculate, with a clean smell of Fabuloso cleaner wafting through the rooms. When you meet the eyes of the tenants, they always answer with a friendly smile.

Sasha Wellinton, 27, plays with the house’s puppy, Trixie, at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

More than a shelter, Casa de Colores has provided both physical and emotional stability to a group of Salvadoran transgender women while they wait on the border in Mexico for asylum in the United States. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and transgender women there have a life expectancy of just 35 years.

For transgender women fleeing violence in El Salvador, the road to asylum in the United States is anything but easy. In order to claim asylum, the women must come to the United States and make a formal case. Before January 2019, most asylum seekers were allowed to stay in the United States while their cases made their way through the U.S. immigration court system. But former President Donald Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program required asylum seekers coming from the southern border to remain in Mexico, a policy that impacted as many as 70,000 people. With immigration court backlogs, these asylum seekers could wait anywhere from two months to three years for a decision on their asylum case, which, if won, would allow them to live in the United States.

In February, President Joe Biden announced a roll back of the MPP program, allowing some asylum seekers impacted by the “Remain in Mexico” policy to enter the United States. For those who were not part of MPP, however, there is no quick or clear path to safety in the United States.

Stuck in limbo, the 30 women of Casa de Colores have built a community in Ciudad Juárez.

Vulnerable and alone

Before Casa de Colores, there were other shelters. Places that the women say took advantage of their vulnerability.

While Mexican law recognizes same-sex marriage and provides limited protections to LGBTQ-identifying individuals, discrimination and violence are common. Mexico is the second deadliest country in the world for transgender people after Brazil, according to a 2019 study by LGBTQ rights group Letra S. 

Coreas arrived in Ciudad Juárez in early 2020 with a group of 20 transgender women from El Salvador. The group decided to stay at a well-known shelter that catered to LGBTQ migrants. While the shelter charged them for food and rent, Coreas said the people who ran the shelter promised to help them get lawyers and apply for asylum in the United States. They told Coreas not to worry.

But after a few months, Coreas and the other women discovered that help wasn’t coming.

The stairs that lead to the building’s terrace also lead to the improvised stove where they make stew and soups at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

“We found out that they wanted to keep us there because they were getting money depending on how many people they sheltered,” Coreas explained. The shelter was getting paid twice for the women’s stay — once by the women themselves and once by funders who thought they were covering the women’s rent and food expenses. The longer the women stayed there, the more money the shelter received.

By the time Coreas learned what was going on, it was too late.

“The pandemic started, and we lost our chance of crossing the border,” Coreas said.

After that first shelter, Coreas and some of the women bounced between shelters. They went to a hotel funded by the United Nations’ migration agency as temporary housing for migrants and then to another government-run shelter. Their identities as transgender women made finding a more permanent home difficult.

Members of Casa de Colores walk back from their weekly counselling and health screenings in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

Last September, the managers of the bar where Coreas worked offered to let the women stay in an abandoned hotel. There was no water and no electricity, and pigeon droppings and dirt stained the interior.

The women got to work on making it livable. The government-run shelter Leona Vicario provided them with beds; other organizations provided them with food, clothing, sheets, and utensils; and the neighbors helped them install electricity so that they could have light. Eventually, they also managed to open the drinking water valve.

“Little by little we managed to make the shelter habitable,” said Coreas, who has become the de facto leader of the house. Casa de Colores was born.

Making ends meet

At first, Coreas was able to sustain the community thanks to the free housing and donated food. But in mid-November, a group of LGBTQ women came to the building from Central America asking for asylum.

The owners of the building told Coreas that she could house only eight people. She negotiated with them, and the owners allowed her to house more women if she rented the building at $500 USD per month. She has to renew the rental agreement every two months.

After Coreas welcomed that first group, word of the house spread among other transgender women in Ciudad Juárez and beyond who were seeking asylum. More women began to come to Casa de Colores seeking shelter. Today, there are around 33 women living in the building on a given day. It costs them about 8,000 Mexican pesos ($370 USD) a week to survive.

“With the donations from before, we managed. However, so many girls have arrived that now the food doesn’t last,” Coreas said.

To help pay for essentials, she and some of the other shelter residents work, although finding regular employment as a transgender woman in Ciudad Juárez is not easy.

Months ago, Coreas and another resident, Alexa Ponce, went job hunting at a local bar. Ponce was wearing a dress and makeup; Coreas presented as a man. Upon seeing them, the bar owners decided to hire Coreas but not Ponce.

Housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are illegal in Chihuahua, the state where the shelter is located, but the women at Casa de Colores say it is common.

“It’s very frustrating to be rejected for a job for the simple fact of being who you are, for dressing how you feel comfortable, for expressing yourself as you really are,” Ponce said.

The 25-year-old Ponce dreams of being an English teacher, a career she trained for back in her home country of El Salvador but could not pursue as a transgender woman. She hopes that when she is given asylum in the United States she will be able to safely work and live as her true self.

The closest thing to family

On a recent Tuesday, Ponce, Coreas and fellow Salvadoran Fernanda Levin gather the women of Casa de Colores on the building’s first floor for one of their twice-weekly meetings. These meetings are usually informative and routine. But not this time. The women have decorated the common area. A cake, featuring a sign that reads “Happy Birthday Gianna,” sits on a table and people are dressed up for the occasion. When the short celebration concludes, Coreas shifts the mood and emphasizes how crucial it is for them to stay attentive when they go out.

“We have to be careful who we talk to. We are foreign, and we are vulnerable. A lot of people may want to hurt us because they don’t accept us,” she says.

As the common area empties one woman approaches Coreas to complain about some internal household issues. Although they gather at friendly occasions, many of the women are struggling.

“The confinement, the climate, the lack of work have them all desperate,” said Coreas.

Coreas, Ponce and Levin have become mother figures to the group and have helped establish routines, rules and cleaning schedules. Coreas even worked with the Mexican nonprofit CEDIMAC to help the women access mental health services, like group therapy. They have to take care of each other, Coreas said, because no one else will.

Susana Coreas, Alexa Ponce and Fernanda Levin sit in the common area at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

“This house is the closest I have to a family nowadays. We are migrants, we are Salvadorans, and we have the same objective: to be able to help our families,” Levin said.

The 27-year-old fled El Salvador in August 2020 fearing for her and her family’s safety. Levin began presenting as a woman when she was 19 years old and became accustomed to harassment and humiliation. But after playing a Mexican actress in a local bar show, Levin reached a breaking point. That night, as she and her sister walked home, a car cornered them, and the driver and passengers yelled insults and threw garbage at them.

“We were terribly scared,” Levin said. “Maybe one gets used to being mistreated from suffering so much, but seeing my sister suffer the consequences was unbearable for me. My parents also started receiving hate messages. I could not accept that my family suffered so much because of me.”

Levin and the rest of the women at Casa de Colores hope to find a safe home in the United States. They have been working with lawyers from the New Mexico-based Santa Fe Dreamers Project to prepare the paperwork for their asylum cases. The project tries to work with immigrants like the Casa de Colores residents who have yet to cross the border, where U.S. immigration authorities will detain them.

Fernanda Levin, 27, talks to Valeria Montes, 27, at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

The hope, said Santa Fe Dreamers Project attorney Héctor Ruiz, is that by getting ahead of the paperwork, the team can minimize the time the women spend in immigrant detention centers. The project is also teaching the women about their rights as immigrants in the United States, helping them practice for their Credible Fear interview as part of the asylum process and supporting them in finding sponsors for when they cross the border.

Ruiz is hopeful that the new Biden administration will help asylum seekers like the women at Casa de Colores.

“I do think they have a good shot on winning their case as long as they have the proper representation,” Ruiz said. “[The Biden administration] has renewed their commitment to the LGBTQ community in terms of asylum seekers. We believe we have a chance for vulnerable communities such as Casa de Colores to be able to get asylum, from what we have read and heard.”

A chance to be oneself

Until they are able to enter the United States, Levin, Coreas and the other women at Casa de Colores are trying to make their home as comfortable as possible. After an eviction threat in January, Coreas started paying more rent to smooth things over. She hopes she won’t have to find another home for the women.

“The most stressful part is not knowing where I am going to accommodate more than 30 girls. Where are we going to go?” Coreas said. “We are in limbo without knowing what is going to happen to us. There is no certainty, and it is difficult for us to plan for the future.”

Coreas thinks about the future a lot. She worries about what will happen if she is not allowed to enter the United States, but also how her son in Minnesota will greet her if she is granted asylum.

An “I Resisted” sticker on a bedroom door as a sign of pride and the fight for trans women’s rights at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)

“He does not know that I am a woman. I don’t know if he is going to accept me or not, and that is an internal struggle that I have,” Coreas said.

In mid-February, Coreas learned from the organizations that are providing legal assistance to the group that, being part of a vulnerable community, they would be allowed to enter the United States after the MPP program participants are allowed into the country. 

Coreas shouted with joy. For the first time in a long time, she might be able to embrace her son.

“We are so happy,” Coreas said. “We are finally able to hope and breathe a sigh of relief.”

Casa de Colores accepts donations via Venmo @casa-de-colores.

Cover photo: Gianna Valladares celebrates her 25th birthday with her friends at Casa de Colores in Ciudad Juárez on March 2. (Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine)


Categories: Local Blogs

Roberto Canales – An Exposé

El Paso Politics - Fri, 03/12/2021 - 6:07pm
On August 10, 2020, El Paso pediatrician Roberto Canales was sued by David and Mariana Saucedo over the death of their three-year-old daughter, Ivanna. The lawsuit alleges “grossly negligent care provided” by […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Pokémon card frenzy during pandemic has Borderland collectors clearing store shelves

Borderzine - Mon, 03/08/2021 - 4:37pm

EL PASO, Texas – Local trading card stores have seen a spike in demand for cards that were popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s as videos of online content creators buying Pokémon cards during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many collectors to go on a spending frenzy.

“It’s a perfect storm of everything – it’s the pandemic, the stimulus checks – it’s everyone trying to find that happy place that made them happy during these really messed up times,” said Joshua Rooslet manager of Game Vault of El Paso.

These are the few Pokémon cards left recently in a display at Game Vault of El Paso. The cards are in increasing demand because of the pandemic, among other reasons. Photo by Oscar Gonzalez,

Pokémon launched in 1996 as a video game that features catching and training animal-like creatures. The franchise expanded to a variety of media platforms, including a TV show and trading cards.The number of creatures in the Pokémon universe now is about 900 from its original 151.

It is now one one highest-grossing media franchise surpassing other franchises like Hello Kitty, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse & Friends and Star Wars.

Stores have had to implement rules for these high-demand cards and promotions.

“We try our best to get as much product to everyone,” Rooslet said. As recently as February 2020, patrons could “walk at any given time and buy booster packs, booster box – buy pretty much whatever they wanted” because demand wasn’t as high as it is today.

“Fast forward to today, we can’t keep any Pokémon products in stock is nearly impossible, we had to put a limit of 1 per family and even then we sold out,” Rooslet said.

Derek Lion, Sun City Games manager, said the demand is higher than the supply, and he wants “to get some Pokémon products because of how much the prices have gone up.”

“Some of the stuff we can still get is overpriced and we don’t see ourselves selling it locally so we just don’t order it, we might get a bad rep for it, but we do it for the people who can afford it,” Lion said.

David Flores, 31 and a local Pokémon card collector, is a co-administrator for a Facebook group called Pokémon TCG – El Paso. The group has more than 1,000 members who are free to trade, sell, or show their collections to other members.

He has felt the impact of the sudden rise of popularity of the cards in the form of scalpers who gather certain in-demand products to resell at a higher price.

Some patrons will camp out at a store to be there as cards are restocked with the hope that they will be able to purchase a “hot set [box] . . . They sell that box for $50 and they resell it for about $150 so they buy all the boxes they can whatever is put out there,” Flores said.

McDonald’s restaurants have had to implement restrictions on its Pokémon promotion because of high demand. Photo by Oscar Gonzalez, Photo credit: Oscar Gonzales


Pokémon is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and has promotional packs with McDonald’s. The restaurant chain is dealing with its own high demand as some of its packs have been found on eBay going for more than $1,000. McDonald’s has sent a statement, calling for restaurants to limit supply.

“We’re working quickly to address shortages and also strongly encouraging restaurants to set a reasonable limit on Happy Meals sold per customer. We want to offer the full Happy Meal experience to as many families as possible, and help ensure everyone is able to get in on the fun!,” the statement said.

Some counterfeit or replica cards have appeared on retail sites.

“For experienced collectors, it’s typically pretty easy for us to tell (a product) is counterfeit,” Flores said. “We have the experience to know what is real, but for new collectors, that’s a good way for them to lose out money if they don’t know what they’re looking for. If they are not familiar if they haven’t purchased enough actual cards yet and they are barely starting and it happens to be fake cards they wouldn’t be able to know the difference it’s kind of hard unless you have someone who is experienced to like go with you for that purchase but you’re typically aren’t buying anything too crazy when you first start.”

TCG Player is an online website that helps collectors and sellers estimate a market price for packs and individual cards, some of the cards can go from up to $2,400 and as low as 18 cents.

Rooslet referred to the Pokémon frenzy as a bubble. “That bubble might pop,” he said.

As pandemic cases drop, interest in Pokémon might drop as well. “That just means people are going to have less money for Pokémon.

“That sense of excitement that people are going to get is what is going to crash the (card) market,” Rooslet said.

Categories: Local Blogs

Children’s Hospital Seeks to Hide Evidence In Court Hearing Yesterday

El Paso Politics - Fri, 03/05/2021 - 9:01am
The El Paso Children’s Hospital and two doctors went to court yesterday asking to have evidence thrown out in the Saucedo malpractice lawsuit. On August 10, 2020, David and Mariana Saucedo filed […]
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El Paso Women’s History Timeline, One Version, March 1, 2021

El Paso News - Thu, 03/04/2021 - 6:14pm
By Eva Ross 1889   Nelly Bly visits El Paso and Mexico writes pamphlet Six Months in Mexico. 1892   Sisters of St.Vicent de Paul purchase land for Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso, TX. 1894   Mary I. Stanton establishes first children’s library in the U.S in El Paso, TX.       1909    YWCA opened in… Read More El Paso Women’s History Timeline, One Version, March 1, 2021
Categories: Local Blogs

The Asian Indian community finds a welcoming home in El Paso

Borderzine - Wed, 03/03/2021 - 12:49pm

Remove your shoes, open the door, ring the bell three times and walk toward the altar to pray. That’s what Hindu devotees do every time they enter the Southwest Hindu Temple on El Paso’s West Side.

Colorful lights hang on the altar. India’s flag is on the right side and the U.S flag on the left. In the center of the temple is a brass tray “puja thali” with rice, turmeric, chandan and incense.

The Southwest Hindu Temple is an essential place for El Paso’s Indian community to preserve their religion and traditions. The temple first opened in 2007 but sits empty today because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The faithful must make an appointment to come in and can only stay for 15 minutes.

The temple’s priest, Rounur Venugopal, was born and raised in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. He came to El Paso in 2008 on a visa for religious workers. His wife and son joined him two years later.

“It was very different to move here first, but it is OK now. The people of this town are friendly and I enjoy serving as a priest for my community,” Venugopal said.

Rounur Venugopal, the priest of the Southwest Hindu Temple, stands on the altar wearing a typical attire from his region in South India. (Maria Ramos Pacheco/El Paso Matters)

In El Paso, members of the Asian Indian community say they have found a place to call home because of the thriving job market in education, health and technical sectors; educational opportunities; and the warm weather similar to their country.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2019, about 2.7 million Asian Indian immigrants reside in the United States. There is not a precise estimate on the number of people from India living in El Paso. The U.S. Census Bureau says people of Asian descent, which includes Indians, represent about 1.4% of the El Paso population, or about 12,000 people.

While many El Pasoans leave town looking for better wages, many Indians move into the city because of the work opportunities. UTEP and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center are two hubs for hiring professionals and enrolling students from India.

Chintalapa Ramana is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Materials Research at the University of Texas at El Paso and serves as the chairman of the board of trustees at the Southwest Hindu Temple. He and his family moved from Michigan to El Paso in 2008. Ramana came in 2002 to the United States to pursue his Ph.D.

“I have lived in many cities in the U.S. before moving to El Paso, but this is a great place to live. The community is very friendly with us, we feel safe and I was fortunate to come to work at UTEP,” Ramana said.

Higher education draws Indians to El Paso

Indians say they feel welcomed by the Hispanic population and think they have much to share regarding food and culture.

“We eat a lot of rice, Mexican people too. We love spicy food, they do too. We cook with many spices and Mexicans do the same. I think we have a lot in common, and we like to do big gatherings and potlucks; they do too,” Ramana said.

Chintalapa Ramana is chairman of the board of trustees of the Southwest Hindu Temple. (Maria Ramos Pacheco/El Paso Matters)

Arvind Singhal was born and raised in Rourkela, India, and is a UTEP professor of communication. Singhal came to the United States in 1983 to pursue his master’s degree. After 17 years living in Ohio, he and his family moved to El Paso.

“The bilingual experience, to experience the unique attributes of the university and the environment of the border, and the job offer from UTEP were among the top factors for us to move here,” Singhal said.

Pratyusha Basu is an associate professor of geography and director of Asian Studies at UTEP. Basu was born in Lucknow, India. Her father was part of the military and they continuously moved all around India. She arrived in El Paso in 2015 after she and her husband accepted job offers from the university.

Previously they lived in Florida. Basu came to the United States in 1995 to pursue her Ph.D.

“It was one of those moments when everyone was coming to the U.S for education. I was part of that boom. A lot of students from India were coming here to complete their education,” Basu said.

A grocery store anchors a community

For Basu and Singhal, the accessibility to products from their home country is a plus that they did not expect to find in El Paso.

When Basu lived in other cities across the country, it was frustrating for her not to find Indian products. But when she moved to El Paso and found the RV International Grocery store, it gave her a sense of the importance of the Indian community in El Paso.

“Access to the food that you need is very important because that is the place to gather. You can keep your community alive if you have access to their traditional food,” Basu said.

RV International Grocery in West El Paso specializes in food products from Asia, particularly India. (Maria Ramos Pacheco/El Paso Matters)

RV International Grocery sells primarily products from Asia, especially Indian goodies. The shelves are full of colorful products with tags written in different languages. At the entrance, it is hard to miss the giant posters of Indian Bollywood actors.

RV is where Indians can find the ingredients to cook their favorite meals and where they can socialize and meet others who might be new to town.

Venugopal’s son works as a cashier at RV. Sheshashayee Venugopal is a junior business management student at UTEP. He came to the United States when he was 12.

“Oh yes, everyone who is new in town, they come here and they start making friends. You know, India is a big country, but even sometimes people find here someone from their state or city,” Sheshashayee said.

Sheshashayee Venugopal works on weekends as a cashier at RV International Grocery store. (Maria Ramos Pacheco/El Paso Matters)

RV is in a shopping center at 4700 North Mesa St., a couple of miles from UTEP. The owner declined to be interviewed by El Paso Matters but allowed interviews and photographs in the store.

Another place to meet people from India is the Indian Student Association at UTEP, which has around 25 members this spring semester. Jeevarathinam Senthilkumar, 20, is the current president. He is pursuing his master of science in engineering. He came to El Paso in 2018.

Senthilkumar found out about UTEP through a friend in India. He was excited to come to a place where people from his hometown had finished their education. He knew he could make this place his home.

“I feel comfortable in El Paso, the temperature is similar to my hometown, and people are very friendly to us,” Senthilkumar said.

COVID-19 impact

Like any other community, Indian society has adapted to the COVID-19 restrictions. At the beginning of the pandemic, Venugopal and a few temple members conducted a “Havan.” According to Venugopal, this is a fire ritual performed by a Hindu priest to purify the air and bring peace to the environment.

But as COVID-19 cases exploded in El Paso during October and November, Diwali was canceled. Diwali is one of the most important festivals for the Indian community. It takes place between October and November. El Paso’s Indian community usually celebrates Diwali at Southwest Hindu Temple with a big potluck.

“The toughest was not to celebrate Diwali, I have no words to express how I feel about it. It was devastating for me, my family and the community,” Ramana said.

Members of El Paso’s Indian community gathered outside the Southwest Hindu Temple to celebrate Diwali in 2019, the last traditional celebration before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Southwest Indian Temple)

Pandemic travel restrictions also made it impossible for most Indians in El Paso to return to their native country to visit family.

“Because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to go to India for a whole year. My parents are old, having to reconcile with the fact that I might not be able to see them,” Basu said. “I finally realize what it means to be an immigrant. The pandemic showed me that, not being able to travel.”

Singhal used to travel four times a year to India. Last year, in March, he was set to travel for spring break, just as the pandemic hit. He initially postponed the trip, then canceled his travel plans.

“That is the toughest part of living far from home because my parents are old, but we had to adapt,” Singhal said. “I used to speak once or twice a week with my mom, but now we speak twice a day, so maybe this could not happen if it was because of COVID.”

UTEP communications Professor Arvind Singhal, right, visited his parents in India in 2020. He hasn’t been able to return since because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Arvind Singhal)

Singhal’s family decided to cook a big traditional dish once a week and delivered it to other Indian families to keep the community together in challenging times while practicing social distancing. Others did the same.

“I decided to cook something in a big batch, and I break it into small boxes and deliver them to my friend’s home. I text them that I am coming, and if they are home, they open the door, we wear masks and stand 10 feet away and talk for about 10 to 15 minutes,” Singhal said.

When looking for ideas to stay connected during the pandemic, the Indian Student Association moved their meetings online. They keep in touch through Whatsapp.

“You know, many students don’t have a car, and now it is important to have one to go and get your groceries. In the group chat, we help each other with her groceries, so they feel safer,” Senthilkumar said.

Cover photo: Members of El Paso’s Indian community celebrated the festival of Diwali in 2019. The traditional celebration didn’t take place in 2020 because of the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Southwest Hindu Temple)

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.” data-src=”″ />

Categories: Local Blogs

Guest Opinion: Disrespect of Mexican Americans at the El Paso City Council

El Paso Politics - Tue, 03/02/2021 - 6:27am
By: Oscar J. Martinez, PhD., A guest editorial This article was updated on March 2, 2021 at 13:40E to correct taxpayer costs. ($400 million to $500 million). On February 16, 2021 the […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez Was Not Murdered Evidence Shows

El Paso Politics - Mon, 03/01/2021 - 3:26pm
On November 18, 2017, the headlines screamed that a Border Patrol agent had been killed by undocumented immigrants or Mexican criminals near Van Horn. Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez was found dead […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Border Patrol Criminals

EPN - Border Analysis - Mon, 03/01/2021 - 3:18pm
A Border Patrol agent, Rhonda L. Walker, stationed in Laredo, Texas was arrested by federal officials on February 12. According to the probable cause document, “Walker used her official position to assist a foreign national into the country.” Walker was paying the women to be her housekeeper and nanny, according to the criminal charges. An… Read More Border Patrol Criminals
Categories: Local Blogs

UMC Did Not Provide Beto O’Rourke Formal Authority To Collect Patient Information

El Paso Politics - Fri, 02/26/2021 - 8:30am
On February 6, 2021, El Paso Matters reported that Beto O’Rourke and volunteers were going door to door on that day collecting information from south-side El Pasoans looking to get the Covid-19 […]
Categories: Local Blogs

UMC Asking For Social Security Numbers For Vaccine

El Paso Politics - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 9:37am
A Texas man on the Covid-19 priority list was denied the vaccine because he did not have a social security number. According to KHOU-11, a 61-year-old man in the Rio Grande Valley […]
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Chapo’s Wife Remanded To Jail

EPN - Border Analysis - Tue, 02/23/2021 - 2:31pm
Yesterday, the wife of Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán was arrested at the Washington Dulles International Airport. The 35-year-old Emma Coronel Aispuro is a dual citizen of México and the United States. She was born in California on July 3, 1989. She married Chapo in 2007, according to the arrest affidavit. In 2019, Chapo was convicted on… Read More Chapo’s Wife Remanded To Jail
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