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Married for 51 years, photos capture loneliness of the pandemic for couple living just a few feet apart

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 12:42pm

Ana Maria, 74, and Jose Becerra, 80, are a high-risk couple living in El Paso. The two have illnesses that weaken their immune system and make them fearful of contracting COVID-19. After a recent surgery Ana Maria Becerra, who is my grandmother, socially distanced herself in her home to protect my grandfather from anything she may have contracted during her time at the hospital.

This photo essay captures moments of their lives on a recent Saturday, nearly at the end of the two week at-home social distancing period. Married for 51 years, they struggled to stay six feet apart, manage day-to-day tasks and outwait the loneliness.

After a hospital stay over surgery to remove her cancerous uterus, Ana Maria Becerra made efforts to isolate herself at home. She only moved from the bathroom to her bedroom in order to social distance from her family.

Ana Maria Becerra becomes emotional due to the pain of the surgery and not being able to be with her husband.

Jose Becerra, nervously looks at himself in the mirror as he prepares to leave his home amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

After not driving for several years, Jose Becerra, who has Parkinson’s disease, cautiously backs out his driveway wearing a mask to protect himself from COVID-19 as he goes out to buy lunch.

Ana Maria Becerra stops eating the lunch her husband brought home for her in order to answer a phone call from Del Sol Hospital. She speaks with a health care worker about social distancing guidelines to protect her high-risk husband within their home.

Jose Becerra eats his lunch by the doorway of his bedroom to spend time with his wife while social distancing.

After eating her meal, Ana Maria Becerra uses hand sanitizer.

Ana Maria Becerra looks at me from her bed.

Jose Becerra spends some time catching up on paying medical bills.

As loneliness creeps in again, Ana Maria Becerra’s dog lies by her side in bed.

Related : Listen to Ana Maria and Jose Becerra’s love story that spanned across time and borders





Categories: Local Blogs

El Paso ICE facility guards accused of sexual assault, harassment

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 1:51pm

Three detainees at ICE’s El Paso Processing Center say they were sexually assaulted or harassed by guards, and their attorney is calling for an investigation.

“The terrors of detention at our local El Paso ICE facility have morphed into a new horror. Over the last several weeks, I’ve recorded deeply disturbing and troubling accounts by women and men who have become victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment by guards at the detention center,” said Linda Corchado, an attorney with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.

Attorney Linda Corchado discusses accusations of sexual assault and harassment involving guards at ICE’s El Paso Processing Center.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said the agency “has zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse or assault against individuals in the agency’s custody and takes very seriously all allegations of employee misconduct. ICE is aware of the complaints, which will be investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as is standard procedure.

“As public servants working for a law enforcement agency, ICE employees are held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct. Incidents of misconduct are treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated thoroughly. When substantiated, appropriate action is taken,” Zamarripa said.

Las Americas sent letters outlining the allegations to the El Paso District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

“We take allegations of misconduct by public officials extremely seriously,” said Daryl Fields, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Our office’s role is not to investigate allegations of crime, but rather to prosecute federal offenses when cases are referred to us by an investigative agency.  We have accordingly forwarded the letter to the appropriate investigative agencies.”

Claudia Duran, the spokeswoman for the El Paso District Attorney’s Office, said the office forwarded the complaint to the DHS inspector general.

El Paso Matters is seeking comment from DHS, the parent agency of ICE, and the inspector general.

The alleged victims — two women and one man — are not identified in the complaints. The names of accused officers were redacted in a copy of the complaint provided to the media by Las Americas.

The first woman, called Jane Doe 1 in the complaint, said two guards on multiple occasions forcibly kissed her and touched her intimate areas. The attacks occurred between November 2019 and June 2020 in areas that were out of view of surveillance cameras, according to the complaint.

One of the guards “told her that if she behaved, he would help her be released from custody. She states that she refused his advances,” the complaint said. Both guards allegedly told her no one would believe her and there was no evidence because the incidents occurred in “a camera blind spot.”

Jane Doe 1 filed a complaint with ICE in December against the first guard but a captain “responded dismissively to her complaint,” according to the Las Americas complaint sent to investigators. She did not see the first guard for several months but he returned in March, according to the complaint, and has been “increasingly aggressive and intimidating towards Jane Doe 1. She has lived in constant panic that he may do something against her again.”

The second woman, Jane Doe 2, said she was repeatedly sexually harassed by two guards in March and April. One guard told her “she was attractive and that she should ‘fool around’ with him.” After she rebuffed his advances, the guard “reportedly stated that if she reconsidered his sexual advances, he would get her clean uniforms and give her extra soap” according to the complaint.

The guard also urged her to sign up for anxiety and depression medication. He said if she did so, she would get “additional benefits, including meeting Officer (name redacted) at night in a camera blind spot where they could engage in sexual conduct.”

A second guard made similar advances and encouraged her to get anxiety and depression medication so “they could meet at night and engage in sexual acts,” the complaint said.

Jane Doe 2 was released in April. She received messages from one of the guards after her release, via two women who were detained with her. “In those messages, Officer (name redacted) again sought to engage in sexual conduct with Jane Doe 2,” the complaint said.

The third set of incidents in the complaint involved a man who said he was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation at the El Paso Processing Center.

The man said a guard stared at him and other men while they were showering in July. John Doe 1 told the guard not to stare at them and the guard responded by rubbing his own genitals, the complaint said.

John Doe 1 reported the incident but was told by a captain that the guard was “just doing his job,” according to the complaint.

In mid-July, John Doe 1 was showering when the guard walked in and demanded that he get out, the complaint said. “Officer (name redacted) yelled at him and pressed his face into John Doe’s face until another officer pulled Officer (name redacted) away.”

John Doe 1 said he was placed in solitary confinement for five days after complaining about the second incident. He staged a hunger strike and was moved to ICE’s Otero County Processing Center about 20 miles away, according to the complaint.

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

Categories: Local Blogs

Indigenous Mexicans survive pandemic by drawing on tradition in the absence of government action

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 10:57am

By Jeffrey H. Cohen, The Ohio State University

While the coronavirus hammers Mexico, some Indigenous communities in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca are finding creative ways to cope.

Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest and most ethnically diverse states, is home to numerous Indigenous communities, including the Zapotec people. I have spent many years in the central valleys of Oaxaca conducting anthropological research in rural Zapotec villages, documenting the people’s lives, migration patterns and food culture.

TUBS/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Now, my summer research in Oaxaca canceled due to the pandemic, I am learning from afar how the Zapotec are confronting the coronavirus given such complicating factors as chronic poverty, inadequate health care, limited internet, language barriers and a lack of running water.

Working with colleagues at Mexico’s Universidad Tecnológica de los Valles Centrales de Oaxaca and scouring online media resources, I find the Zapotec are surviving the pandemic by doing what they’ve always done when the Mexican government can’t, or won’t, help them: drawing on local Indigenous traditions of cooperation, self-reliance and isolation.

So far, it’s working. While infections and death are rising relentlessly across Mexico, many Indigenous communities in Oaxaca remain largely insulated from the coronavirus. The Indigenous Mixtec village of Santos Reyes Yucuná reported its first infection on July 17, for example – four months after COVID-19 reached Mexico.

Indigenous survival strategies

Cooperation is a cornerstone of Zapotec life in Oaxaca. A history of social exclusion by the federal government reminds the Zapotec not to rely on politicians to save them.

People work together from a young age, joining together in “tequio,” or communal labor brigades, to complete projects that can range from painting a school to repairing the electrical grid. Individuals, their families and their friends routinely work together to make small jobs go quickly and to make big jobs seem less overwhelming.

A Zapotec woman making tamales using locally grown maiz, or corn.
Jeffrey H. Cohen, CC BY

The Zapotec also maintain relative isolation from broader Mexican society, my research shows. They grow food in their “milpas,” or garden plot, to supplement store-bought fare, and police their own communities with volunteers called “topiles.” With high levels of community trust and a history of self-rule that predates the Spanish conquest, the Zapotec who continue to live in rural Oaxaca neither need nor allow much outside access to their villages.

These three aspects of traditional Zapotec culture – cooperation, isolation and self-reliance – are all helpful in a pandemic.

Chapulines at a market.
Jeffrey H. Cohen

According to researcher M.C. Nydia Sanchez of Oaxaca’s Universidad Tecnológica, Zapotec families are sharing scarce resources like food, information, water and face masks in what’s called “guelaguetza,” the practice of working together and gift-giving.

And at a time when Mexico’s food supply chain is under stress, villagers are ensuring no one goes hungry by ramping up their crop of “maiz,” the corn used to make tortillas.

“Chapulines” – grasshoppers harvested from the fields and quickly toasted over a fire – are returning to the table as a protein-rich alternative to expensive, store-bought meats that are no longer available locally.

Consensus rules

The tight-knit nature of Zapotec communities can, however, also complicate other measures critical to limiting residents’ exposure to infection.

These are small villages of no more than a few thousand souls. Everyone knows everyone, and it is typical for Zapotec people to spend much of their day together with family and friends. This can make it difficult to maintain the social distancing recommended by national health officials.

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“To no longer greet each other so much on the street [is difficult], because we are used to it,” a Zapotec man named Jose Abel Bautista Gonzalez told Reuters in April. “It is a tradition, the culture of the people.”

Rather than closing their doors to family and friends, then, the Zapotec are aiming to stop COVID-19 from getting in at all.

Across much of Oaxaca, villagers are building barricades made of chain, stones and wood to physically block access into and out of their communities, which are typically served by only one road. Many villages are effectively quarantined from society.

“We decided to set up these barriers so that visitors or outsiders wouldn’t be coming in,” José Manzano, of San Isidro del Palmar, told Global Press Journal on June 28.

Such decisions, like most Zapotec policies, are built upon community consensus – not made on the order of a local or national political leader.

Uncertain future

Indigenous Mexican communities are unlikely to escape unscathed from the pandemic.

Mexico is so far losing its battle with the economic effects of the coronavirus: Jobs are disappearing, and economists predict the national economy may contract by 8% this year. Tourism, the lifeblood of Mexico’s economy, has halted.

That means hunger and a long recession that experts say will impact the rural poor disproportionately. Mexico’s social development agency estimates up to 10 million people may fall into extreme poverty, ending the country’s nearly decade-long run of poverty reduction.

And if the coronavirus does get into Zapotec communities, it will probably hit residents hard. Their villages lack the running water, social distancing, mask supply and health care necessary to slow the spread of the disease.

An anti-cholera campaign for clean drinking water in Oaxaca.
Jeffrey H. Cohen

The lack of potable water additionally increases the risk that intestinal problems like cholera, among other health conditions common in rural Indigenous populations, will exacerbate the effects of COVID-19.

The Mexican government has committed to build more rural hospitals, including in Oaxaca. But the virus moves faster than construction crews. The Zapotec’s best bet, they know, is still themselves.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately characterize the Indigenous inhabitants of the village Santos Reyes Yucuná.

Jeffrey H. Cohen, Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Categories: Local Blogs

Frank Hernandez – A short story of the COVID-19 pandemic in my life

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 9:33am

As the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, I knew my life would dramatically change. I just didn’t know how much.

Some professors were already talking about transitioning to online learning, some of my plans were starting to fall apart, and I found myself washing my hands at every chance I had.

At first, things were not that bad – Spring Break had been extended for a week and my university decided to transition to online learning for the rest of the semester. As I live on the Mexican side and study and work in the U.S., this meant that I didn’t have to cross the border every day for the next two months a half – quite a relief.

A laptop has the ZOOM software open during a Friday afternoon work meeting due to social distancing on April 3.

For the next weeks, my life was fairly tranquil. I had the time to read more than I normally do – something I was overly happy about.

I was able to cook more often than I normally do, and generally had to improvise because going to the supermarket every time something was missing wasn’t really an option.

Someone stirs vegetables in a pan as the water is boiling in a pot on April 25 Saturday afternoon.

I even started planting my own chiles.

Someone waters the chile plants as they continue to grow on April 6 Monday morning.

Though I knew things were not alright and people all around the world were suffering the devastating effects of this pandemic, I still found some comfort in cooking with my family on a Friday morning.

A plate with flour lies in the center of the kitchen next to a plate of chiles rellenos ready to be cooked on April 10 Friday morning.

Chiles rellenos are being fried on a pan on April 10 Friday morning.

It was until mid-April that the pandemic started affecting me negatively – or my plans to be precise. I had submitted a paper to a conference in Oneonta, New York, which was cancelled due to the outbreak in the state. Fortunately, the conference organizers created a website where the accepted papers can be found.

The Archipelago website was designed by the SUNY Oneonta Undergraduate Philosophy Conference committee to highlight the papers that were accepted to the conference on April 17-18 in Oneonta, New York, but was cancelled due to the pandemic.

I was also planning on taking a language course in Germany during the summer, which was also cancelled.

The letter of acceptance to a German language summer program in Munich lies in a table in my room.

I thought this was bad enough to be honest. Some of my biggest plans for the summer had fallen apart because of this new Coronavirus. I never imagined how much worse it could get. It must have been my privilege that made me blind.

Around the same time I had discovered my plans were being abruptly changed, two people in my family were suspected of having the virus. One of them was severely affected, the other was in a more stable condition but by the time he found out that he had tested positive for COVID-19, he had already infected most of his family.

As days passed, things were not getting any better. In a matter of weeks we lost two people in the family.

I hesitated a lot about sharing this story, but I finally realized that I couldn’t not include them in a story about my life during COVID-19.

As Texas starts opening up and maquiladoras in Ciudad Juarez – my hometown – are trying to reopen, I felt it was my responsibility to share the story of real people who were fatally affected by this pandemic.

This is no simulation and we shouldn’t minimize it. People are dying.

I assure you all, you don’t want to look back at these times thinking of people you’ve lost.

Editors Note: Frank Hernandez spent the summer doing a remote internship with Investigate Midwest, an independent news publication of The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Due to the high level of contributions he made to reporting projects, the organization extended his internship into the Fall 2020 semester.

Categories: Local Blogs

Visa delays stress international students attending U.S. colleges as school begins

Wed, 08/26/2020 - 9:47am
Story by Corrie Boudreaux and Angela Kocherga for El Paso Matters CIUDAD JUAREZ – As the first day of classes neared, violinist Rodrigo Cardona Cabrera was filled with anticipation. After years of hard work and an impressive resume of performances across Mexico and the United States, the 19-year-old Ciudad Juárez native earned a scholarship to study music at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “Of course, I’m very nervous because it’s a new experience for me,” Cardona said. “It’s like a new life. But I know that it’s going to be an amazing experience. I’m going to learn a lot about music and a lot about myself, and life.” Rodrigo Cardona performed at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, one of the nation’s most prominent cultural centers. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Cardona) But his dream of studying music abroad nearly came crashing down when the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez was shuttered because of COVID-19. “I had all my paperwork from the university and in June I made my (visa) appointment and paid all the fees but they told me that the appointments were delayed due to the pandemic. So they had given me an appointment for Aug. 12 and 13,” he said. “The visa process was becoming very complicated because there are various decisions that the American government has made, because of the pandemic, to reinforce safety at the border and in the consulates,” said Gabriel Cardona, 50, Rodrigo’s father. The result has been a delay for international students who need an appointment to complete their visa process to attend universities and other schools in the United States. Rodrigo’s family worried he would not get a visa in time for the start of the fall semester. The Juárez native picked up his first violin as an elementary school student in 2011, when his parents urged him to audition for Orquesta Sinfónica Esperanza Azteca. The renowned youth orchestra was founded in Ciudad Juárez when drug violence was raging to give children a path to a better future. “I chose the violin because it was the only orchestra instrument that I recognized. And little by little, I began to have great affection for it,” Rodrigo said during a recent interview. Rodrigo Cardona at age 10, about a year after he started playing violin with the Orquesta Sinfónica Esperanza Azteca. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Cardona) Gabriel Cardona said he and his wife encouraged their son’s talent. “He has always been very focused, very determined in wanting to continue his professional studies in music,” Gabriel said. “We obviously had options here in our country, in Mexico. However, we believe that the educational system in terms of music is more organized in the United States,” the father said. The scholarship was also key to Rodrigo’s decision to attend a U.S. university. A pandemic creates a visa application backlog Rodrigo, like an untold number of international students, found their visa applications on hold. The shutdown of U.S. consulates as a COVID-19 precaution created a backlog of applications, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico acknowledges on its website. Consulates in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Tijuana began accepting appointments for student visas again the first week of August.  The Ciudad Juárez consulate noted in a statement posted on Facebook, “there are a limited number of appointments available” but expect delays. The U.S. Consulate on Avenida Paseo de la Victoria in Ciudad Juárez remains closed except for emergency appointments. The largest U.S. consulate in the world, its operations have been almost completely shut down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters) The U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, the largest in the world, has not provided details publicly about how long those delays will last or the number of students struggling to get a visa appointment. “If applicants have less than a week until they start class, they can request an emergency appointment,” according to a message from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico posted in Spanish on all consular websites. The backlog of appointments means “students have been basically grounded,” said Sukant Misra, vice provost for international affairs at Texas Tech University About 3,000 international students were enrolled at Texas Tech last school year and the university expected as many to attend this fall. At least 50 international students have notified the university they will not have their visas in time to attend the first day of classes Monday and more are likely.  Some  students have deferred their admission until the spring semester. The university has waived all additional fees or other potential penalties for deferment. Others may take classes online in order not to fall behind according to Misra. “Unfortunately, there is very little we can do as an institution to assist with visas…” Misra said.  Texas Tech provided students with letters verifying their admission and start date and stating that they had to be on campus “in the hope that they can use these letters to get an emergency appointment,” he said. The impact in El Paso The University of Texas at El Paso, which has about 1,400 international students enrolled this fall, said some have also experienced delays. “Throughout the month of July and August, F-1 (student) visa applicants have reported cancelations of their visa appointments due to the volume of applicants or shortages in personnel, at their corresponding U.S. Consulate,” UTEP officials said in a statement. The backlog includes students of all ages who need visas. The delay in holding in-person classes has relieved some of the pressure for elementary and high school students from Ciudad Juárez who under normal circumstances cross the border during the school year to attend classes in El Paso. “This has not affected us yet,” said Socorro de Anda, president of the Lydia Patterson Institute, a private school in El Paso Segundo Barrio which serves students on both sides of the border. The school has about 300 students and about 70 percent commute from Ciudad Juárez and half of them have student visas. The other half are U.S. citizens who live on the Mexican side of the border. Lydia Patterson is following the same schedule as the public schools in El Paso, which are not expected to resume in-person classes until mid-October. The delay in reopening means Lydia Patterson Institute students from Ciudad Juárez joined their classmates in El Paso in remote learning. “We’re online and they can stay online as long as they need to until they get their student visas,” De Anda said. But once schools reopen their doors, the visa backlog could affect students from Mexico who want to attend classes in person. “Their appointments at the consulate are being extended into, my understanding is, November and December,” De Anda said. Finding a way to get a visa When his visa appointment was rescheduled twice by the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez, Rodrigo Cardona traveled to another Mexican city 800 miles away. “At that time, my appointment had been moved to September, so it was impossible for me because I start classes at the end of August. Then, fortunately, I got an appointment in Guadalajara,” he said. His father said the travel expenses were worth it even as the family dealt with economic hardship because of the pandemic. “We didn’t think twice. We decided that Rodrigo would change his appointment to Guadalajara so we could accelerate the process.” Gabriel Cardona and his son, Rodrigo, spent several months trying to obtain the student visa necessary for Rodrigo to study music at Texas Tech University. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters) Rodrigo was finally able to get his visa to cross the border in time to start the fall semester at Texas Tech University on Monday. It’s a bright spot in a year filled with heartache for the Cardona family. His mother, Patricia Cabrera died of COVID-19 in mid-May and did not see her son leave for college. “My wife, Rodrigo’s mother, departed to a better place some months ago due to the pandemic,” Gabriel Cardona said.  “The future seemed very difficult. Without my wife here, the economic panorama of our family was complicated. With Rodrigo’s college studies very near, we had had an economic plan for that, but suddenly it came apart.” He’s grateful to family, friends and coworkers for their help. Rodrigo is also filled with gratitude. “I’m very grateful to my family who has always motivated me since the beginning. All the people who have been behind me, who have also been like part of my family,” he said. Rodrigo Cardona, center, with his parents, Gabriel Cardona and Patricia Cabrera, at his graduation from Tec Milenio in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Cardona) The freshman is honoring his mother’s memory by working even harder to attain his dream. “In life there are no excuses. In spite of being in a pandemic or suffering the loss of a very beloved person, this doesn’t mean that life ends. Just the opposite, it should be a reason to fight for what you want. You have to take courage from those experiences to keep going further,” he said. This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.
Categories: Local Blogs

Why a truck driver keeps rolling despite pandemic challenges

Wed, 08/19/2020 - 1:48pm

By Exodis Ward, NMIndepth

As my Dad packed his bag for his next trip, we talked about how coronavirus had affected his work. A truck driver that keeps food on tables, toilet paper in bathrooms, and medicine on shelves, he has a crucial role in an economy battered by the coronavirus.

When the pandemic first hit and panic buying cleared grocery shelves, there was a moment when the value of those who drive through the night to deliver important goods across the country came into national focus. But largely, it’s an unseen role.

My pandemic experience has been vastly different than his as city ordinances advised me to stay home and only go out when necessary. But I’ve been wondering, what is life like when you’re an essential worker who has to be on the road during a pandemic?

Dining on the road more complicated now

Dad started folding his shirts as he mentioned one of the most basic challenges for him: eating. So accessible at home, food is nearly impossible to find while on the road.

Dining rooms at restaurants have been closed for a while, which means he can’t order food. That leaves the drive-thru as his last resort, but even then, it’s not really an option.

“I have food in the truck, but when you’ve been driving from dusk until dawn, you’re too tired to fix something to eat,” he said. “With Covid-19, people don’t want you walking up to the drive-throughs even though you showed ‘hey, there’s my truck.’ I cannot bring it through a drive-thru because it’s built for a car that’s no more than 6 feet long.”

Dad’s employer passed out emergency kits filled with granola bars, but for the most part, he meal preps to make his life easier.

More hours behind the wheel

There are more obvious problems arising from the pandemic, like longer work shifts. While talking about panic buying, how it led to suppliers to send out more stock and pushed drivers to work more frequently, he sorted pills into their container.

Driving for extended periods of time is harsh on the body. Prolonged sitting can cause health issues like swelling in the legs, blood clots and back pain. At its most basic form, driving is exhausting. Dad’s never complained once, but I’ve seen it in the way he knocks out while we’re watching a movie or how he’s snoring after five minutes of laying down. He is utterly wiped and usually takes a day to recover.

Exhaustion exposes drivers to risks like road hypnosis, especially at night when they need to be hyper-vigilant because they can only see a short distance ahead.

“You’re looking for other drivers on the road; there’s deer and elk you have to dodge. I haven’t hit one, thank God. There’s a lot of hazards you have to look out for,” he said, pausing as he counted out medicine.

Coffee helps, he said. “I have a coffee cup that says Loves’ on it, so whenever I get coffee, it’s a refill and doesn’t cost me anything. I like to turn the music up or talk to my friend, Ken. Being observant and watching what’s going on around you is the main thing.”

Staying vigilant to stay safe

When the new coronavirus first made an appearance, no one was really sure how it spread. Now, five months into it, we understand that Covid is spread through bodily fluids like spit, which is why it’s so important to wear a mask.

This raises a problem for companies where employees switch trucks often, but my dad is lucky. He has an assigned truck that no one else drives.

The next biggest concern when it comes to keeping the virus at bay is how to keep up with hand washing. In addition to hand sanitizer, the company my dad is with only schedules stops at truck stops, which is great because he always has access to hot, running water.

Truck stops present their own set of problems though, with large numbers of people coming in and out from different locations. They could easily turn into hotspots for the virus especially in places like the showers, where people linger. To avoid this, truck stops have required everyone to wear masks and they’ve become more vigilant in their cleaning, he said.

“They’ve always done this, especially the Loves’ that we stop in Killeen. Every time you come out, they go in and spray everything down. They make sure they spray the bathrooms, wipe them down, and change out the towels every time,” he said. “I’ve noticed it a lot at the Travel Americas and a lot of your Flying J’s too.”

Even with my dad taking his own precautions, we still take extra steps when he’s home. As soon as he walks in the door he showers, we spray his duffle bag with Lysol, we wash his clothing and towels. And we’re extra watchful of any symptoms that could develop because one of the things we’ve learned about living in a pandemic: even when you’ve taken every precaution, things still happen.

We’ve been fortunate thus far and I’m thankful for it. Every. Single. Day.

Taking care of “family”

With all the negativity that seems to surround the pandemic, not everything has been bad. My Dad’s friend, Ken, gladly sends along any masks or hand sanitizer he finds. It’s nice to know there is still a sense of community. If anything, people have come closer because of the distance.

Dad finally stopped buzzing around the room and zipped up his bag. It was getting close to the time he’d have to leave. He sat down and put his glasses on, to verify his route.

I finished our chat with a simple question: How does it feel to be essential to the economy? He chuckled and left me with an anecdote.

“I’m gonna tell you something,” he said.“I drove probably an hour outside of Española, to Durango, and back to Pagosa Springs at 30 miles an hour because of a blizzard. I could barely see and I had to use the edge of the road to drive. The lady [at the store] told me ‘You’ve got to be out of your mind’ and I asked her why she said that. She said ‘You drove in a blizzard to deliver.’ And I was like ‘Yes. I did.’

In his eyes, it was simple; it’s about the idea of community.

“I was looking at it like my family. What I’m delivering they’re going to need for breakfast and lunch foods tomorrow. If I don’t make it there, that’s a child that may not get breakfast or lunch.”

This article was first published in New Mexico In Depth here. Exodis Ward is a multimedia journalism student at UT El Paso.

Categories: Local Blogs

1 year after Walmart massacre, how has a hate crime changed El Paso and borderlanders?

Sun, 08/02/2020 - 6:21pm

A gunman said he came to El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019 “to kill Mexicans.” He opened fire on shoppers at a Walmart near the U.S., Mexico border in one of the deadliest attacks against Latinos in modern U.S. history that left 23 people dead. Victims included Americans and residents of neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

In this first episode of Borderzine’s Our Border Life podcast, three UT El Paso journalism students with ties to both sides of the border reflect on the changes they’ve seen in the year since the attack and how they find themselves more aware of racism, but also stronger and more prepared to confront it.

This podcast episode was produced by Anahy Diaz and hosted by Claudia Hernandez in the UTEP Communication Department RSRC 4033 research course Audio Reporting and Podcasting taught by journalism Associate Professor of Practice Kate Gannon.

Categories: Local Blogs

Video: Why does it matter how pandemic data is controlled?

Sat, 08/01/2020 - 10:00am

By Julia Lane, New York University

The Conversation Editor’s note: When the Trump administration ordered hospitals to report COVID-19 data to the Department of Health and Human Services rather than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as they had been doing, it provoked worries and criticism from public health experts. The White House said that the HHS system will provide more accurate data faster, but the switch did raise concerns that political considerations would influence what data is reported. Professor of public policy Julia Lane, who recently published the book “Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto,” explains why public data is vital to public health and democracy in general.

What was the main concern over the data?

The whole point of having a career civil service running public data systems is that, because they can’t be fired, they have the integrity to produce the statistics the best way possible. And that’s what makes the federal government and state and local governments such high-quality data engines.

Now, the concern that came up is the appearance of political interference. Who knows what actually happened. But the point is, if there is political pressure on the measurement, then that can substantially affect the aggregates. The language that has come out of the administration has not helped the cause of the career civil servants appropriately.

Why is it important to have accurate and transparent public data?

When you’re making decisions that are important for all the citizens of the country, or the population of the country as a whole, then you need good data to be able to allocate those resources. Now, if those data are biased in some way, people are not going to get counted. And if they’re not counted, they’re not going to get resources.

People matter. A democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. If you don’t know who the people are, you don’t have a democratic system of government. And if you don’t have high quality data, you can make lots of mistakes. For example, we didn’t have high quality data on the opioid crisis. And so it kind of surprised everyone how bad it was because we had no way of measuring it.

What happens when government data is influenced by politics?

In the United States, I don’t think that has been a major issue, although I’ll give you one example in which government data has been influenced by politics. But certainly in dictatorships, government data is influenced by politics because if you control the message of the data, you control an awful lot of messaging that’s going on in the country. Anyone who’s worked for the World Bank or in totalitarian countries will be able to tell you that government data is the first thing that goes.

Now, I’m going to give you an example from the United States, and this is quite well documented. So the U.S. Census Bureau in 1940 was asked to provide tabular information on the location of Japanese Americans. That’s the information that was used to round people up and put them in internment camps – Japanese Americans in internment camps.

People are relying on nongovernmental sources, such as like Johns Hopkins University or the media, for data on the spread of the virus. What are some potential problems with data from private institutions?

The challenge is if you don’t have a trusted source and what you’re seeing happening here is people are going to multiple other sources. So they’re going to Johns Hopkins, Worldometer or 1Point3Acres – people are getting their data from lots of different sources.

I don’t want to cast aspersions on any of those datasets, but how does the data that they put out compare with some measure of ground truth? How does the data collection persist over time? How do we standardize measures across countries? With private institutions, maybe people are trying to sell you things. Maybe there’s marketing involved or there’s a profit motive.

How do we improve our public data systems?

What I talk about in the book, which is called “Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto,” is reducing the monopoly power in the federal system. If you have a monopoly power, you’ve got a single point of failure, and that makes you vulnerable to these political pressures that we’re seeing.

So what I talk about is a networked system that pushes the development of measures and indicators down to the states and local areas – the regions which are closer to the data and have a better sense of the way in which the data are generated. But combine that with the federal system so that you get consistency, that quality focus that I was just talking about.

The current system clearly isn’t working. When I wrote the book, I did not expect the coronavirus pandemic to highlight all of the fragilities in our data collection system. I talk much more about GDP and unemployment. But all of the fragilities of our current system are being exposed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Julia Lane is the author of:

Democratizing our Data: A Manifesto

MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Julia Lane, Professor of Economics, New York University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Categories: Local Blogs

A woman was found dying near the border wall. No one appears to be investigating her death

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 4:16pm

Early on the morning of July 8, a woman was found by Border Patrol agents with a severe head injury, just north of the border wall in New Mexico. Scant information is available regarding her identity, and it appears that no law enforcement agency is investigating her death.

Incidents like this — in which no press release disclosed her death, no agency has claimed responsibility for investigating it, and no public identification of the woman has been made — begs the question: how many migrants die and then fall through the cracks of complex bureaucracy, with far-away family members left wondering what happened?

What we know 

Our Jane Doe had apparently fallen from the border wall, which stretches to a height of 18 feet at that point along the U.S.-Mexico border, just west of El Paso where Anapra, Mexico, and Sunland Park, New Mexico, meet.

A dispatcher, apparently from El Paso, passes along a call to Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority about a person who fell from the border wall.

“So, somebody fell from the fence. They’re unresponsive. They are breathing,” said an agent on a dispatch call recording about the incident, provided by Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority.

U.S. Border Patrol Agents who were assigned to the Santa Teresa Station reported that they found her near the border wall. “The woman’s breathing was labored and she was bleeding from her head,” Border Patrol spokeswoman Valeria Morales said in a statement.

Border Patrol agents immediately called for medical help, with Sunland Park Fire Department and emergency medical technicians arriving at the scene at 6:15 a.m., according to dispatch records. Jane Doe was then rushed to University Medical Center in El Paso, and died shortly after arrival at the trauma bay.

Irene Santiago, chief of operations for the El Paso medical examiner, confirmed that an autopsy was conducted on Jane Doe, but was unable to provide any additional information.

Who has jurisdiction? 

Depending on who you ask, you will get many different answers to the question of which law-enforcement agency is responsible for this case. Efforts to determine whether anyone is investigating her death resulted in a never-ending game of pass the flag among local, regional, and federal agencies.

The border wall at the end of Anapra Road near Sunland Park, N.M., just east of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. The steel bollards in this area are, at minimum, 18 feet high. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

My first email to the Border Patrol suggested that Sunland Park Police Department was the investigating agency. Deputy Chief Eric Lopez of the Sunland Park Police Department then responded to an inquiry about this case saying, “Our department personnel were in fact NEVER on scene, I don’t know why Border Patrol is telling you that we are the investigating agency, that is 100% incorrect.” Lopez then said this incident fell within federal jurisdiction.

But federal agency representatives said they lacked jurisdiction. Frank Fisher of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division said “the FBI does not have a role in these kinds of cases unless there is evidence of a federal crime.”

When I called the Doña Ana Sheriff’s Office, a representative said she didn’t see anything in her notes for that day.

Efforts to determine who would assign jurisdiction in this case were equally murky. I called one of El Paso’s nine justices of the peace, who then said to call the county attorney, who suggested that a federal agency was likely involved. Since Sunland Park, New Mexico doesn’t have a Justice of the Peace, I tried the Sunland Park Municipal Court, which referred me to the Doña Ana County clerk. The county clerk said to talk to the district court clerk, who said to talk to the sheriff.

Each person I called sent me to someone else, who then sent me to someone else, and all of them seemed somewhat confused by how the process should work in this case.

A dispatcher relays additional information about a person believed to have fallen from the border wall. The victim is incorrectly described as a male in this dispatch.

How uncommon can interstate migrant issues be in a community like El Paso? The place where this woman was found is a common border-crossing spot, just outside of El Paso County but within the El Paso Border Patrol sector. I found it baffling that there wasn’t more of a system for handling cases like this, and told many of these phone representatives as much.

I spoke with Stephanie Leutert, a scholar at the University of Texas at Austin who has devoted substantial time to studying migrant deaths in South Texas and recently published an in-depth report on the topic.

Stephanie Leutert

“Migrant deaths in Texas, it’s the biggest black hole. It’s so hard to track down, there’s so many (deaths), and then it looks slightly different in every place. It’s complicated, to say the least,” Leutert said.

Someone has a legal obligation to find out more about the circumstances around her death, but who? We know that she was found with a traumatic head injury near the border wall, but we do not know for certain that she fell.

For an investigation to be called off, a death must be ruled accidental, but so far it appears that no agency has done enough investigating even to make that call.

Kate Spradley, professor at Texas State University’s Department of Anthropology, studies identification methods for migrant border crossing fatalities.

“All unidentified deaths or all trauma deaths have to be investigated. And those remains will stay here until they are identified. It’s just sad. It’s sad and it continues. I know in the time of coronavirus, people’s resources and money are elsewhere, but this person has a family too, and they need to know what happened to her,” Spradley said.

“This is a person, this is a person with a family. It’s just the same story over and over again, and it’s horrible.”

How uncommon is this case?

A Border Patrol agent who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak publicly said that migrants frequently fall from the border wall in the El Paso sector.

“There’s a large number of people that try to enter illegally by jumping the wall, that get major injuries that have to go to the hospital. And those hospital bills are ridiculous,” the agent said.

The Border Patrol reports that there have been eight migrant border-crossing deaths in the El Paso sector so far in 2020, compared to 20 deaths recorded by the Border Patrol in 2019.

Scholars like Spradley and Leutert emphasize that official numbers are typically inaccurate and undercount the frequency of border-crossing fatalities. A 2018 CNN study found that the Border Patrol had failed to count hundreds of migrant deaths in the United States. A situation like Jane Doe’s would not be counted in this tally unless she were identified, because currently there is no publicly available proof of her nationality.

Even in efforts to identify Jane Doe in this case, communications were confusing because another migrant woman had fallen from the wall just two days later on July 10, and broken her leg. In El Paso Matters’ efforts to identify this woman, a consulate representative had confused her with another border migrant injured from the wall fall.

Earlier this year, another woman died falling from the border wall near El Paso. In that case, the migrant was a 19-year-old Guatemalan, and was seven months pregnant. Neither she nor the fetus survived the fall.

What should happen in cases like this?

According to the Border Patrol agent, a standard process is followed by Border Patrol when a migrant dies as a result of attempting to illegally cross the border.

“If someone observes an illegal immigrant dead, they must call the supervisor in shift, the watch commander and then inform it to radio communications. They will call EMS and the fire department and then whoever else needs to know. If it’s in the city limits they’ll call the police department, and then the police department will get in touch with the coroner. That’s how a death should be handled.”

In this case, because the woman was still alive when the Border Patrol found her, the situation becomes a little more complicated. The Border Patrol fulfilled its obligation by promptly calling for medical help. It is no longer the Border Patrol’s responsibility to call law enforcement, since she was still alive when she left their custody and was taken to the hospital. So whose responsibility is it?

Kate Spradley

“I think a lot of people don’t understand death investigations for unidentified deaths, so that’s a major problem in those remains not getting to where they need to go, and not being able to track those remains, and then not filling out the appropriate paperwork and DNA samples that could lead to an identification,” Spradley said.

It’s easier for people to get lost in the system when the case involves multiple counties, she said.

Eddie Canales, director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, agreed that this is a common issue. “The lack of investigation in terms of migrant deaths is a major problem that exists,” he said.

“If the person has identification and it’s a fresh body, then they’re able to be fingerprinted, pictures taken, and there’s an effort to reach out to family. If there’s no identification on the person then you’ve got to go through a process. There’s three ways: fingerprints, dental records, and DNA,” said Canales, describing how the identification process should be handled.

With the July 8 Jane Doe, we know that an autopsy has been conducted, but it is unknown what extent of efforts have been taken to identify her, notify her family, and determine the cause of her death. The medical examiner said the autopsy couldn’t be made public until family has been notified.

This case appears to be an example of the black hole described by Leutert. Perhaps more information will be released by law enforcement officials regarding her death and identity, but Leutert says that in the absence of heightened institutional standards for accountability, these answers often don’t come easily.

“It can be hard to know to what extent they are holding people accountable. And from the outside it seems that they are not at all, or very little,” Leutert said. “Maybe internally that’s slightly different. I kind of doubt it, but maybe. If I give them the most benefit of the doubt, except we would never know because it’s not transparent.”

Cover photo: A woman was found mortally injured July 8 at the base of the border wall at the end of Anapra Road near Sunland Park, N.M., (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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

Categories: Local Blogs

Listen to an El Paso nurse’s journey through COVID-19

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 12:09pm

Nurses have been at the center of the COVID-19 health crisis helping those who are severely ill, coping with a shortage of personal protective equipment, and in some cases getting sick themselves. Borderzine reporter Gabe Montellano began interviewing Mario Murillo, an El Paso nurse, back in March for a story about Latinos in nursing. And then the pandemic happened. Here’s Murillo’s experience of working on the frontlines before and after he himself contracted COVID-19. This conversation originally aired on our partner public radio station KTEP.

Mario Murillo: Good afternoon my name is Mario Murillo. I’m an RN-BSN working currently at University Medical Center under the critical care area.

Gabe Montellano: Because of social distancing –Murillo agreed to record his own answers to questions about working during the pandemic. He’s 26 years old and has been a nurse for four years.

MM: We are feeling tense. We do try to prepare as much as we can but it does feel like the calm before the storm situation more than anything else.

GM: When we first talked in March patients with COVID-19 were beginning to show up at the hospital According to him, nurses at his hospital were also coping with a shortage of personal protective equipment.

MM: We have been having to reuse material in a way that in any other situation would not be appropriate. We do feel anxious. We do feel a bit nervous but it come with this job and we know and have to find a way to deal and continue working and continue providing for your patients in anxious or nervous situations.

GM: Murillo had to temporarily stop caring for patients when he tested positive for COVID-19 in late April.

MM: Having to be self-quarantined has been a roller coaster of emotions to say the least between dealing with symptoms, the illness itself has made me go through a range of emotions: Whether it be anger, guilt, sadness or anything of the sort. Like with anything else, just find a way to deal with them appropriately. It’s time really. We all are humans in the end.

GM: At home he had to take precautions to protect his parents and brother and sister from the virus. Fortunately, none of them had been infected. That meant isolating in his room as much as possible, having a designated restroom, wearing a mask.

Mario Murillo

MM: Wearing a simple surgical mask to lessen the risk of contagion and whoever is next to me or helping me has to also be wearing a surgical mask and staying six feet away. I’m also making sure any food items I get are in disposable utensils.Third I’m also not having any physical contact with my pets due to the risk of coronavirus spreading to them and from them to other people.

GM: His family has three dogs. After recovering from COVID-19 and getting retested Murillo returned to work in June. He’s now caring for patients in the ICU.

MM: There are pathogens everywhere and it’s safe to assume COVID-19 is roaming the halls of any, of every hospital in El Paso.

GM: He hopes by sharing his story, people will take all the necessary precautions to protect themselves from the virus.

MM: This thing is very much real, the threat is very much real.



Categories: Local Blogs

Brands may support anti-racism movement, but advertising still needs to decolonise

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 12:34pm

Carl W Jones, University of Westminster

Brands such as Nike and Adidas to PG Tips and Space NK have been expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by issuing statements and adverts of support – from Nike playing with their memorable tagline of “Just Do It” by asking consumers “for once, Don’t Do It” to the #Solidaritea hashtag taken up by many tea brands. Many of these messages have been accompanied by promises to take a hard look at each company’s history and current working practises to see what changes can be made to address structural racism.

The idea that we need to decolonise various areas of society is finally growing. But the idea itself is, of course, nothing new. Calls and attempts to decolonise curriculums, public transport systems, museum collections, healthcare systems and so on have been around for a while, but finally many appear to be taking it a bit more seriously.

Decolonising involves removing or rewriting rules and concepts left by colonial-era thinking that still control or influence society. And, of course, this means basically every sector of society. It is an idea that is becoming more widespread. But even though brands are stepping up and making statements, the broader industries behind these messages also need interrogating. Decolonisation, for example, is rarely discussed in my field, advertising – and it needs to be.

American city dwellers, for example, usually see 5,000 adverts a day and many contain messages that reinforce colonial thinking. Adverts reflect what a society thinks about itself. One study found that white advert characters are more likely than characters of colour to be depicted as having an occupation. Such subtle racist and gendered stereotypes are common in adverts around the world.

A poster campaign from earlier this year by the Mexican department store chain Sears, for example, shows an indigenous woman selling bracelets next to a tall white woman. Another shows a white man looking down at another indigenous person, the headline reading “Vacations”.

White superiority is implied in these adverts. The differences between “primitive” clothing and contemporary fashion are highlighted, something that the man’s downward gaze and woman’s nonchalance further emphasise. These adverts also objectify indigenous peoples as something to be looked at on holiday. Someone to take a selfie with, like an animal at the zoo. Sears didn’t remove the ads. The store responded to complaints by tweeting that it celebrates Mexican culture.

One advert that drew particular attention in the UK and US was the 2017 Dove ad that showed a black woman removing her brown top, revealing a white woman underneath. Although this was not the intended message, it could certainly be read to imply that by using Dove the consumer can become “white”. This upset some consumers who felt that Dove was referring to old colonial-era soap ads that portrayed black people as unclean. Dove removed the ad and started reviewing online content.

And a recent Dolce and Gabbana social media campaign, created in Italy for the Asian market, featured a Chinese model attempting to use chopsticks to eat Italian food, looking fabulous in her D&G clothing. This deeply offended Chinese luxury consumers. The ads were taken down and D&G sales drastically dropped, as celebrities withdrew their support for the brand.

These cases show that advertising needs to be decolonised: it can and does support discriminatory thinking – thinking that often has its roots in the colonial era.

Ways to decolonise advertising

I am considering how we can remove such thinking from advertising, and there are a number of steps I think the industry should take.

The most obvious place to start this is within universities, which are already taking steps to decolonise other subjects, from history (more of a focus on colonial histories) to literature (moving beyond the set “canon” of what are often white male writers) and design (creating a space for designers working outside the confines of the Anglo-European sphere).

But most marketing courses have not yet taken such steps. It should become standard practice for marketing courses to emphasise how advertising not only persuades consumers but also influences society. Just as today we laugh at ads from the 1950s and their reflection of negative gender stereotypes, such as women stuck at home doing the washing, or not being able to drive correctly, the same exercise will certainly be done in 2050, analysing our current advertising. Advertisers had better be prepared – and bear this in mind.

A change is also needed within actual advertising agencies, which are dominated by white men in top positions. Even though more women are obtaining these roles, there needs to be more of a gender balance, and far more racial diversity is needed. This will help encourage inclusive messages. In the UK, the Advertising Association has just released a report on diversity and inclusion concluding that the challenge is to ensure the industry is one in which Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) recruits can prosper.

In addition, the companies paying for advertising need to change by practising what they preach. This means that they need to follow through and act on their recent messages of solidarity.

For once, Don’t Do It.

Take Nike’s “Don’t Do It” ad. This is a good example of a brand calling attention to racism in society. But this, too, has been controversial because even though Nike has supported black athletes over the years, the company has been questioned over its lack of black representation on its leadership team. Brands associating themselves with racial equality need to back words with actions.

Finally, regulatory bodies that govern advertising should be more proactive, creating specific rules that guide the ad industry before adverts become offensive. This might involve introducing regulations around reinforcing the concept of white superiority. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has attempted to be proactive in this way, with the negative stereotypes rules that banned two ads in 2019, including Volkswagen. So this is a step in the right direction.

Of course, all of these steps will also feed into the efforts to decolonise elsewhere. The process of decolonising institutions will create a more egalitarian society – so this is something to strive towards.

Carl W Jones, Senior Lecturer, School of Media and Communication, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Categories: Local Blogs

Navajo Nation President: New Mexico still failing students

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 7:52pm

By CEDAR ATTANASIO Associated Press/Report for America

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The leader of one of the largest Native American tribes in the U.S. called Wednesday for the governor of New Mexico to end efforts to fight a court ruling that orders improvements in education for members of his tribe and other vulnerable groups.

The comments from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez come ahead of a court hearing next week in which Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will ask a state judge to dismiss a consolidated lawsuit representing Native American and Hispanic plaintiffs.

“The lawsuit needs to be pursued so Native students can be provided adequate education programs and services necessary to learn and thrive,” Nez said. “Our students deserve an educational environment that prioritizes their culture and unique needs. It is time for our Native students to have the same opportunities as other students.”

In 2018, a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the state to address inequality in funding and academic outcomes for low-income, Native American and Hispanic students — which account for about 80% of children.

The suit — initially filed against Lujan Grisham’s Republican predecessor Susana Martinez — threatens to wrestle control of policy away from the state Public Education Department and control of funding away from the state Legislature.

FILE – In this April 15, 2020 file photo New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state Capitol during a news conference in Santa Fe, N.M. The leader of one of the largest Native American tribes in the U.S. called Wednesday, June 23, 2020, on Lujan Grisham to end efforts to fight a court ruling that orders improvements in education for members of his tribe and other vulnerable groups. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool,File)

Lujan Grisham’s administration argues in a motion to dismiss the suit that the state has increased funding for education, that future changes will take years, and that they should not be micromanaged by court orders.

“​Sweeping and transformational progress takes time, and the governor has not yielded in her unwavering commitment to as much,” spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said. “But an educational transformation should be overseen by the education professionals of the Public Education Department and the state Legislature, not a court.”

A judge will consider the request to dismiss the case at a hearing Monday.

Navajo leaders contend that two years have passed and the state has not implemented the systemic change required by the order. They say public schools serving Navajo students have not provided quality or useful technical assistance, guidance or training needed to assist in the implementation of special education programs.

“The court decision states that the state failed to abide by the New Mexico Indian Education Act, and this is an issue we cannot ignore,” Nez said.

The Navajo Nation has about 325,000 enrolled members, about 175,000 of whom live on the reservation that spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.


Cedar Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Categories: Local Blogs

Daughter talks with mother about her activism in 1980’s Mexico democracy movement

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 3:06pm

In the summer of 2019, undergraduate journalism students from the University of Texas at El Paso and Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juarez collaborated to record personal stories of the border.

In the 1980s, the elections in Mexico were full of fraud, causing mass protests. One of the strongest movements occurred in the state of Chihuahua. Ana Sofia Rey interviewed her mother Monica about the fight for democracy in Ciudad Juarez.


Ana Sofia: Tell me a little more about the protests in Ciudad Juárez.

Monica: It was a group of people who were dissatisfied. They began to manifest. We were tired of having our vote be mocked, of it not being respected. I remember that in 1985 I was a box representative. One of the things that, in training to be a city representative, warned us was: Do not accept food from anyone. Because in other years, what they would do is that they would offer  food and in the food and drinks they would put laxatives. The representatives of the party would then have to constantly go to teh restroom beacus eof necessity, obvisouly, it was then that they would take advanatge and alter the ballots.

With protests, they would tell us, “when you’re out in the street, at one o’clock, wherever you are, stop your car and step out of it for one minute. At one o’clock the city would stop, we would get out of the car and stand there outside of the car. And once the moment would pass, “boom” we would climb back in. 

Another of the protests was the taking of the bridges. The Cordova bridge, the international bridge, also the Santa Fe bridge. We would go and sit on the bridge. I mean, there were a lot of people. People who slept there, because that was also an economic loss for the city. But it was a way of pressuring the government.

There was also the “charolazo”. They would come out hitting a pan with a spoon. Hitting, hitting, making noise. That was the point, for the government to turn and see the dissatisfaction of what we were living.

In 1986 in the parade on November 20, my aunts, my mom, and my aunt arrived crying because they had been gassed with pepper gas in their faces in order to move them. My mother says that there was a policeman who said to her, “lady, get up, leave.” I mean the police themselves got it, they were intimidated by the bravery of the women. And they remained firm.

There was the march of silence too. It was going with a candle or just walking in silence. It was an awesome adrenaline. It was to believe that the union could change the system.

Ana Sofia: What do you think Ciudad Juarez is missing?

Monica: I’m convinced that Jesus was killed beacuse he was revolutionary, because he couldn’t shut up and got involved. That’s what we lack. Commitment. Take off a little of the comfort we live in. We know things happen and we prefer to shut up. It scares us.

Ana Sofia: But, for example, now as a mom. How would you feel that for example I start to participate again in things like that or visiting houses in areas that we know violence is very strong.

Monica: As a mom, you do get scared. But as a committed woman, I would support you. I will be the one who will always support you. I do not believe in passivity. I hate passivity. I would never stop you. Despite all the consequences, I would suffer them with you. I would follow you and tell you “go ahead.” Do not stop.


Categories: Local Blogs

A conversation with maquila workers when a company closes

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 2:45pm

In the summer of 2019, UTEP and UACJ collaborated to record personal stories from both sides of the border. In this conversation we hear the experience of two workers. Ana Belen Sanchez and Claudia Rivas worked in a maquila operated by North American Communications, known as NAMS in Juarez.

In March 2019, the plant closed abruptly, leaving more than 600 people unemployed.


Ana Belen: My name is Ana Belen Sanchez, I’m 29 years old.

Claudia: I’m Claudia Rivas, I’m 42 years old.

Ana Belen: What was your last job?

Claudia: My last job was at the NAMS company. I started there in April 29, 2010. There we would make letters or correspondence for the United States or promotions for stores.

Ana Belen: We worked for customers like Chase, Gerber, who are well known, American Express.

Claudia: What I liked most was coexistence. We all had a lot of years there and knew each other. We already knew how many children we had, the days we rested, what we did, we didn’t talk about it. When we saw this company that left, that was what was hardest for us, knowing that we were all going to separate.

We saw that they took machinery, the best machinery in all areas, in the whole process. The human resources manager, he told us not to make a fuss about it, that nothing was going to happen.

Ana Belen: On Thursday they announced, right, that we will be given Friday, March 8 and Monday, March 11, as days off in gratitude for all our work. So, all the people left to their homes really happy.

Claudia: We were going to make a meal together when we started getting messages saying to “come to the company they are taking out machinery.” And since we were near, we quickly went and there were already several co-workers there. They were in fact taking out some trailers and some boxes.

Ana Belen: Then one of my co-workers approaches me, “Belen, the truck coordinator just called me and she told me that the trucks will not pass tomorrow.” And so I call her right there with her and a boy says, “no ma’m your maquila is screwed, they left already.” And everything was outside and we were waiting for them to open and the guard tells us, “No, there are instructions to not let you pass.”

Claudia: That week was pure horror. Because there was nothing, absolutely no work.

Ana Belen: We practically stayed stuck in everything.

Claudia: In everything. Many people who, say, had loans or had planned to give their daughter a 15 year old party, none of that could be done.

Ana Belen: In fact, there were couples who worked there, that is, two incomes.

Claudia: The husband and wife there.

Ana Belen: And they were left with nothing.

Claudia: If they saw right now what we are all going through, that many of us did not find employment. If you arrive and tell the person who is hiring, “I have come to be hired,” “Oh yes, what was your last job?” “Well, I worked at NAMS,” “No, because you have a labor demand and we don’t want the ones from NAMS here.” As if we were the ones to blame. It was the company that left and left us without work. The debt they have with us amounts to a lot.

Ana Belen: The settlement is very large. 80 million pesos is a lot. It is something we are all waiting for. And many people are already very desperate.

Categories: Local Blogs

What the Supreme Court’s DACA ruling means for El Pasoans

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 1:42pm

by Elida S. Perez, El Paso Matters

An El Paso man who has been allowed to stay in the United States under the Obama administration’s DACA program celebrated a Supreme Court decision Thursday that allowed the program to continue. But he also noted he and other people who came to the United States as children without legal authorization still face an uncertain future.

“At the end of the day we just don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s hard living on a tightrope,” said David Gamez, 24.

Josue Tayub is a 36-year-old DACA recipient and nurse who works in the intensive care unit at an El Paso hospital. He has cared for both COVID-19 patients and victims of the Aug. 3 mass shooting.

“I’m happy, I’m super excited. It feels like I can do what I love to do, what I want to do with my life — for now,” said Tayub, who came to the United States as a child from Yucatan, Mexico. Hear more from Josue Tayub

David Gamez of El Paso is a DACA recipient studying to become a software engineer. (Photo courtesy of David Gamez)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the Trump administration had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious manner in 2017 when it ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program instituted by the Obama administration in 2012. That program protected from deportation those people who came to the country as children, so long as they followed a set of rules.

“It is a great day for DACA status holders. While this is not a definitive protection of the DACA program, the program lives, and we continue the fight to ensure permanent protection for all Dreamers, and we will joyfully continue to help DACA status holders renew their status,” said Melissa M. Lopez, an attorney and executive director of El Paso’s Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services.

El Paso Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz said the ruling, along with recent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, raise hopes for a more just society.

“Let us continue to work for justice and storm the halls of heaven with prayer, until the dreams of all of our sisters and brothers, documented and undocumented, are set free from cages of fear and indifference, and all of us can take our rightful place at the table of fraternal love,” Seitz said in a statement.

DACA history

The Obama administration implemented DACA after Congress had failed for years to provide protection for “Dreamers,” those who entered the United States as children. Polling has shown widespread support for such legislation, though many Republicans oppose any change in immigration law they view as “amnesty.”

The Supreme Court ruling made clear that the Trump administration could again rescind DACA if it used a process that complied with the law. The ruling made clear that only Congress could provide permanent protection from deportation for Dreamers.

More than 900,000 people have received protection under DACA, including more than 100,000 in Texas and 1,500 in El Paso.

DACA recipients respond

Gamez said he’s puzzled by the failure to permanently normalize the status of people like himself.

“It’s just very confusing because I feel like there’s been so much investing into us that the American people should be able to cash out on the investment they have made on us so far,” he said. “We are very well educated people, we have worked so hard to provide positivity for the country.”

His mother brought him to the United States when he was 10 years old, after their home in Cancun was destroyed by a hurricane.

“It’s so scary for her because we dropped everything to come out here. We have given it our all to earn a place here,” Gamez said.

He is studying to become a software engineer and currently works for a solar company. “I’m a  taxpaying, law-abiding citizen.”

Gamez vows to push forward, despite the continuing uncertainty over his future, and urges other DACA recipients to do the same.

“I think it’s very important for Dreamers to keep focused on what they are doing. At the end of the day, our mind is the strongest weapon against oppression,” he said.

Mario Carrillo, an El Pasoan now living in Austin, is married to a DACA recipient, Angelica Rodriguez.

“I think today’s decision brings some peace of mind knowing that the program can remain not only for myself and for Angie, but also for a lot of DACA recipients who will either be able to renew or will be able to fully apply for the first time,” Carrillo said.

Rodriguez said DACA allowed her to graduate from college and begin a career.

“It allowed me to obtain a job, help my family financially, help my sister cover some of her tuition. It allowed me to purchase a car, travel across the states; not out of the country, but at least feeling a little bit more secure,” she said.

DACA recipient Itzel Campos. (Photo courtesy of Border Network for Human Rights)

Itzel Campos, 19, has been living in El Paso for 13 years, after her family moved from Torreon, Mexico. Her DACA approval was set to expire in November, but she now hopes to be able to renew it so she can continue working and helping her family.

“My permission expires in November and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to reapply, so I thought they would be able to take me out (of the country) at any moment, at any point,” Campos said. “Right now I’m very happy to know that it will stay intact.”

Wide range of leaders praise decision

El Paso business, political education, religious and human rights leaders celebrated Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling and encouraged Congress to extend permanent protection to DACA recipients.

“The Supreme Court did not necessarily protect DACA in any way. They state that the way it was ended was contrary to our laws,” said Linda Rivas, an attorney and executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “The reality is the administration could try and end it and do it differently this time.”

An unanswered question is whether the Trump administration must reopen DACA to new recipients in the wake of Thursday’s ruling.

“We’re ready as an organization, we are ready to move forward, we are ready to continue to do this work to help those that are DACA recipients and that should be eligible to receive DACA,” Rivas said.


These DREAMers, who are doctors, nurses, teachers, military personnel, and so much more, represent the best parts of America. #ThisIsHome #HomeIsHere

— Veronica Escobar (@vgescobar) June 18, 2020

Jon Barela, CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, which promotes regional economic development, said Dreamers are part of the community and contribute much to society.

“While the Supreme Court’s decision today is reassuring, we urge Congress to find a long-term, bipartisan solution to our inefficient and short-sighted immigration system. Doing so will make the country more prosperous and allow us to live up to our highest ideals as a nation,” Barela said.

Long past time for legislative solutions: “As polls have repeatedly shown, an overwhelming majority of voters support permanent protections for DREAMers.”

— Sen. José Rodríguez (@JoseforTexas) June 18, 2020

The Border Network for Human Rights called on Congress to normalize the status of millions of people who came to the country without documents, not just those who came as children.

“We need a long-term solution and we call on Congress to act and bring a substantive solution for the 11 million immigrants in this country,” BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia said.

Immigrants have contributed heavily to the economy, history, and culture of our nation. It is not feasible nor appropriate to pursue policies attempting to deport #Dreamers.

— Mayor Dee Margo (@mayor_margo) June 18, 2020

University of Texas at El Paso President Heather Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico and secretary of the Air Force in the Trump administration, applauded Thursday’s ruling.

A message from @UTEPPresident Heather Wilson on the Supreme Court's decision today to uphold DACA.

— UTEP (@UTEP) June 18, 2020

Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, also called for expanded protections for immigrants.

“Today’s decision is not a final resolution but it is an important reprieve for young people and families with deep roots in our communities, many of whom are on the front lines in this time of national crisis. We still need Congress to act. Pass the Dream Act, cut funding to ICE and CBP, tear down walls, set free the detained and restore asylum,” said Corbett, whose organization advocates for action based on Catholic social teaching.

He said the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Trump administration acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in ending DACA summed up the administration’s broader border policies.

“We have seen here in this border community how immigration policy and border policy, that recklessness, that capriciousness and that arbitrariness, characterize border policy and immigration policy from the beginning,” Corbett said.

Angela Kocherga contributed to this story.

Cover photo: DACA supporters rallied outside the Supreme Court in November 2019 as the court heard arguments about the future of the program. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Pickering)

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.“

Categories: Local Blogs

How white code talkers don’t see their own racism and go unchallenged

Mon, 06/15/2020 - 5:09pm

If you’re white and live outside of the urban centers where most protests have occurred since the murders of George Floyd and Ahmad Arbury, it’s a scene you’ve likely experienced any number of times. It speaks volumes about where we are as a country a half-century after Martin Luther King Jr. laid down his life to try to solve our enduring race problem – a uniquely American bog that today somehow encompasses both reasonable progress and no progress at all.

It can happen almost anywhere, anytime. Months before the current crises, I was at a local restaurant’s bar when the talk turned to politics. The owner was carrying on about how much he loved President Trump’s tough talk about solving the homelessness problem, as if that problem hasn’t bedeviled America’s leaders for the past 50 years. But to the restaurant owner this sounded great because, as he said, the homeless don’t want to work — and he’s sick of paying to take care of them. “They sit out on the stoop smoking reefer all day!” he bellowed.

Then a customer chimed in that he’d just spent a week training a new employee named “Shanika, Sharika, I can’t even pronounce it.” He added that she was eight months pregnant. He was furious because she took an online test to get the job, whereas when he started years ago he had to take a written exam in person at a testing center.

And yet, as this powwow was winding down, a teenaged African American waitress approached the owner and asked if she could leave early because she needed to study for a calculus exam. He kindly told her that it was no problem, then turned to us and said, “She’s OK.” His snarl of a few moments earlier was gone. The employee of course was not anywhere near us when that conversation occurred.

If you were to call the restaurant owner or his customer racists, they would consider those fighting words. The owner treats his employees well, black or white, and the customer moonlights in music and often performs with black musicians. Both have accepted many societal changes, particularly the social stigma of being openly racist.

But their resentments linger, so they’ve dialed them back into code and convinced themselves they are fair-minded, although you most definitely will not see them out protesting racism. Code talkers profess the same rationale: If black people play by their rules, work hard, and keep their heads down, they’ll treat them as fairly as anyone else. So that’s progress, right? Well, yes, perhaps, if you ignore that it puts African Americans in a state of perpetual probation: When they behave, they’re OK; when they don’t, they’re black.

And we all know what that means.

In case you just flew in from Nepal, let me translate the narrative of the restaurant scene for you: Most blacks don’t want to work, that’s why so many of them are homeless, and we (white people) are paying for it. Make no mistake: The guy smoking reefer on the stoop is black, and so is Sharika or Shanika – note the not-so-subtle alleged confusion about her name. “Pregnant” means out-of-wedlock (quite possibly with the pot smoker on the stoop), and of course Sharika/Shanika only got the job because she’s black, and now her white colleagues have to cover for her.

Welcome to race relations in 2020 America, where we still have a long way to go. In a country that is more of a melting pot than ever, a huge swathe of the population can be described as white code talkers.

The irony of white code talking is that while black people don’t hear it much, they know perfectly well it’s out there, and they’re left to trying to figure out who is and who isn’t talking behind their backs. That’s because the code talkers are usually careful about where and to whom they speak. The audience for the code these days is more often white, especially if the code talkers believe you’re a “safe” listener who won’t squeal on them. The classic trope is: “You can’t say anything these days or they’ll think you’re a racist.”

When I shared my epiphany about code talkers with my wife, who is black, she shook her head at my naiveté, as if to say, “It took you this long to figure this out?” And I can already hear my liberal-minded friends bleating: “Why didn’t you say something!?”

If I see an overt act of racism, I will say something. But recent events aside, that’s not always how it plays out. My wife and I have never had such an experience, which is seemingly a step in the right direction. Beyond that, my response to liberal outrage is:  Really? That’s a marvelous sentiment in your gentrified urban neighborhood where everyone agrees with you, and where you have a hissy fit about people who wore blackface 30 years ago, which of course simply reinforces the code talkers’ paranoia. Get out of your bubble more and you’ll see that code talk is  plentiful, especially among the generations older than millennials. Where I live, if I challenged every code talker I’d be out of breath in a week.

So are we a complicated work in progress, or is it all just more of the same?

On the one hand, many white Americans who may have a chip on their shoulder have nevertheless accepted, sometimes begrudgingly but sometimes proudly, our progress in eradicating the worst evils of racism. They have African Americans in their lives and treat them respectfully, at least to their face.

On the other, their anger still smolders, and when they need to vent, they wait until the African American computer whiz is out of earshot, take stock of who’s in their little audience, and pull out their code when they’re certain it’s safe. It murmurs its way across this country every day. We’ve tried to legislate and stigmatize it away, but it festers still, and we’re coming to learn that it boils over into violence more than we think, whether in Georgia or Minnesota or countless other places. Maybe as a country we just need more time; or maybe we’re just devolving into a society with way too many code talkers living under the delusion that if the white sheets are gone, so is our race problem.

This article was originally posted on on June 14, 2020 and reprinted with permission by the author.


Categories: Local Blogs

A love story across time and borders

Thu, 06/11/2020 - 7:58pm


Borderzine reporter Consuelo Martinez tells of her grandparents’ 10-year courtship across the miles between the United States and a little village in Mexico.

Categories: Local Blogs

5 books featuring La Frontera to read during the pandemic

Sat, 05/30/2020 - 4:42pm

One thing that the coronavirus pandemic has allowed me to do is read. I’ve been able to connect with many stories, characters and settings through the turning of pages. But no matter how connected I can feel to any story, it is deeper with those that feature my homeland on the U.S., Mexico border.

What all these books have in common is an understanding of what it is to be somewhere in between two countries – sometimes lost, sometimes more aware than ever. From an odyssey to an identity crisis, from an individual struggle to political battles, these books situate us in the middle of La Frontera and help us understand our history while informing our present.

In times of COVID-19, what better way to pass our days than getting to know ourselves and our heritage?

1. The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú

This book is a memoir from a third generation Mexican-American who is a former Border Patrol agent from Arizona. He narrates his experiences in the agency, including finding dead bodies across the desert and detaining those who intended to cross the border illegally. Cantú’s book tells the story of someone who left La Frontera only to discover that it had migrated with him.

2. En el puente con la migra by Héctor Antonio Padilla Delgado

This book is a compilation of stories from students from the University of Texas at El Paso who live in Ciudad Juarez and have to cross the border several days a week. It is something I’m quite familiar with because I live in Juarez and attend school at UTEP. These stories are there to help us become more aware and familiar with the idea that we have all at least once crossed a border – whether a physical border or otherwise.

3. Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution by C.M. Mayo

C.M. Mayo is a novelist from El Paso who has written broadly about Mexican history. This book tells the story of the secret spiritual book of Mexican revolutionary and president Francisco I. Madero. Though this book does not directly feature the border, it is a beautiful read into the metaphysical origins of the modern Mexican state.

4. The Making of a Mexican American Mayor by Mario T. García

In 1957, Raymond Telles became the first Mexican American mayor of a major U.S. city. This book features the story of Telles’s election to the El Paso mayor’s office, which “represented a major milestone in Mexican American political history.” It narrates the struggles and victories of a whole generation of Mexican Americans in the border region.

5. Adiós a Dylan by Alejandro Carrillo

This book is amazing, and I don’t say it just because I’m a Bob Dylan fan. It tells the story of a 19-year-old from Mexico City who’s obsessed with Dylan. He travels from his hometown to New York City with the intention of connecting with his idol on a spiritual level.

Carrillo writes two chapters about his experience passing through Ciudad Juarez and crossing to the U.S. to ride a Greyhound bus that will take him to New York. The first of these two chapters he names after Dylan’s song ‘Just Like a Tom Thumb’s Blues’ that narrates his alleged experience in Juarez.

Categories: Local Blogs

UTEP journalism student adapts to reporting from home

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 11:53am

EL PASO – When health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic moved UT El Paso courses online in March, multimedia journalism major Exodis Ward wasn’t sure what to do for her next video story assignment.

People were isolated at home. The city and school required social distancing protocols be followed. How could she cover a story without being in the same room as her sources?

“It’s not very often that I draw a blank, so I pitched a very literal idea: How are reporters reporting from home? Honestly, I think my brain was fried from being at home for like a month at this point,” Ward wrote in her blog.

She focused on her own work and that of her colleagues at The Prospector, the campus student news outlet.

“I was able to show how I get interviews on Zoom. I was able to show what I meant when I discussed social media and how it can be your best ally,” Ward wrote. “I used a great deal of b-roll in this video. I had a few stand-ups that I used as a type of transition.”

She explained she had to record her on-camera reporting with her cell phone instead of her computer to get better audio quality. And, she sought advice from others.

“I’m by no-means a professional, so I reached out to my editor-in-chief Valeria Olivares, who is a fellow at the Dallas Morning News. She’s working with professionals and she provided some real insight,” Ward wrote.

Categories: Local Blogs

by Dr. Radut