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Reporting Across Fronteras
Updated: 17 min 20 sec ago

A timeline of the pandemic in the Borderland

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

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

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

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


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

Una cronología de la pandemia de Borderland

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

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

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

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

Categories: Local Blogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Local Blogs

Lockdown was a drag; An interview with Borderland queen Rumor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A professional shot of Rumor

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

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

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

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

Categories: Local Blogs

Vulnerable transgender asylum seekers create shelter together in Juárez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vulnerable and alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making ends meet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The closest thing to family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A chance to be oneself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Categories: Local Blogs

Pokémon card frenzy during pandemic has Borderland collectors clearing store shelves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Some counterfeit or replica cards have appeared on retail sites.

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Local Blogs

The Asian Indian community finds a welcoming home in El Paso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higher education draws Indians to El Paso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A grocery store anchors a community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Local Blogs

Border pandemic travel restrictions create obstacles for patients who get dental care in Mexico

Sat, 02/20/2021 - 5:30pm

CIUDAD JUAREZ — El Pasoans and other U.S. citizens who rely on dentists in Mexico for lower cost dental care face obstacles as COVID-19 travel restrictions remain in place nearly a year later.

The U.S. and Mexican governments in March 2020 limited cross border travel at land ports of entry to “essential reasons” including work, school or medical care. Though dental care is allowed, patients say they face long lines at the border when returning to the U.S. side.

“Before the restrictions that we’re facing now, I used to go like once a month, and they were pretty simple. I would go in come back in an hour, actually,” said Norma Perez, an El Paso patient who crosses into Ciudad Juarez.

“I just got my first appointment last week and it took me four hours to come back, ” said Perez. She’s been seeing a dentist in Mexico for seven years. “I don’t remember the last time the lines were this long” Perez said.

Fewer people are crossing the border, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection also has staffed fewer lanes at ports of entry leading to longer wait times. Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan has said the strategy is to discourage U.S. citizens and legal residents from making non-essential day trips across the border.

Dentists in Mexico have seen a sharp decline in patients from the U.S. who normally cross for lower cost care. “It has changed a lot. There has been a decrease of patients who are American,” Natalia Rivera, a dentist at the Dental Fun clinic in Ciudad Juarez.

Appointments at Dental Fun have dropped by as much as 60% since the pandemic border travel restrictions started according to Rivera.

Despite delays, for some patients the lower cost makes crossing the border for dental care in Mexico worth it.

“The pricing over there is about a quarter of what you pay here and for the same service. So yeah, it is worth it” describes El Paso resident Ana Villegas, who travels to Mexico every month to see Rivera.

Patients like Villegas, who rely on the lower cost care, are growing weary as the travel restrictions remain firmly in place. “I just don’t see like an endpoint to it,” she said.


Categories: Local Blogs

How I learned to cope when my family was separated by border pandemic restrictions

Tue, 02/16/2021 - 7:02pm

Ciudad Juarez — Since March, the international border has been closed, only allowing essential travel for work, school and medical reasons during the pandemic. The virtual border shutdown has been extended by both the U.S. and Mexican governments each month through February according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The border closure meant my mother, who works in El Paso, had to move to the U.S. side of the border since she didn’t want to have to deal with long lines at the international bridge and the possibility of being turned back even though she was crossing for her job. My mother is in El Paso with my 11-year-old brother while I and my 19-year-old brother live in Juárez.

She sends us money but we miss having her and our youngest brother around. We communicate via WhatsApp by text, calls and video chats. My mother sometimes crosses into Ciudad Juárez to visit and bring us groceries. She misses us as much as we miss her.

Filling the void with gaming

Right before the pandemic, I lost my job and haven’t been able to find another one. I’m a multimedia journalism student at UT El Paso, but because I’m not a U.S citizen, getting another job in El Paso is now harder. And some businesses, especially in Ciudad Juárez, have shut down. My struggle is not unique, Forbes reported that unemployment rates in Mexico were expected to reach 11.7% by the end of the year.

The economic downturn and family separation have been depressing. While quarantining, I turned to a new hobby: video games. I have mostly played The Last of Us and the Uncharted game series, but sometimes play other games such as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven, Flower and God of War.

A common concern that comes to mind when talking video games is the effect they, may have if there is violent or aggressive content. But research is not conclusive. In 2019, researchers from the University of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland, Yamaha J. Halbrook, Aisling T. O’Donnell and Rachel M. Msetfi published an article in the Perspectives on Psychological Science journal where they argued that the effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior depend on more variables, such as the social and family environments of the people playing.

During the social isolation created by the pandemic, gamers have found a sense of community. Not only have I been playing games with some history in them, but also other, more casual, games that have allowed to interact such as the Among Us game. As I started to become somewhat active on Discord, I connected with other people from other parts of the world and we would call everyone on the server as we played Among Us, sometimes also playing games such as Minecraft or Scribble.

In their 2019 review article, Halbrook, O’Donnell and Mstefi also found that games where social activity is involved, whether playing with other people or where non-player characters interact with the player, can also be beneficial for psychological health as long as the player participates in these games with moderation and for social reasons, not because they’re obsessed with the game (or winning) or because they’re looking for an escape from reality. That’s a relief considering the times we’re currently living in.

Having a pet helps

Samson, a pit bull mix is a devoted companion. Photo by Alexia Carmona Nava.


Video games are not the only way for me to cope with the pandemic and the lack of social interaction; My dog Samson, a cinnamon-colored rescued Pit Bull has been a great help too. My uncle trained my dog so he could stay inside the house with me more .

The benefits of companion animals are well documented by research. My dog, in some way, has been my savior, being a comfort during emotionally difficult moments when I felt as if nothing I did had any type of worth.

Gaming has been a way to distract myself from the harsh realities of the pandemic and connect virtually with others and my dog has been an emotional support when I’m feeling mentally vulnerable as I cope with the family separation and isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Categories: Local Blogs

Still clipping along, Estine Davis and her barber shop praised by El Paso’s Black community

Mon, 02/15/2021 - 6:25pm

Estine Davis has been cutting hair in El Paso for almost 70 years, most of it at her barber shop that is the last vestige of what was once a vibrant Black business district.

As she prepared to celebrate her 88th birthday in December, the woman known affectionately as Miss Estine told a reporter she has no plans to retire.

“As long as I make a living from it, I’m going to cut hair,” she said.

To celebrate Miss Estine, a group of friends organized a “Toot and Wave Car Parade” in her honor . The parade began at Shiloh Baptist Church, 3201 Frutas, then made its way to Estine Eastside Barber Shop at 104 N. Piedras.

A video of the birthday celebration for Estine Davis, courtesy of Shiloh Baptist Church.

Ron Stallworth, the author of the best-selling book “Black Klansman,” led the parade. Davis first cut his hair when he was a teenager.

Estine Davis arrives at her barber shop, where she has cut hair for more than 60 years. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Entering Estine Eastside Barber Shop is like stepping back in time. Four red barber chairs await customers, although Davis is the only one cutting hair. She’ll set up a television for customers waiting for their cut. A 1950s-era pay phone hangs on the wall.

“Her shop has been a rallying point over the years for people in the Black community,” Stallworth said. “She has customers from all over the country, people who have grown up with her, like I did, and left the city, went on with their careers. And they always come back whenever they have the opportunity.”

Making a life in El Paso

Davis was born in East Texas in 1932 and moved to El Paso when she was 6. Her mother died before the move and her father soon decided to move back to East Texas, leaving Davis and her siblings with family and friends.

Davis was the youngest child. Her family fudged her age so she could immediately go to Douglass School, the school for El Paso Black children during segregation.

“I was told my sister put her age up to 8 and you put your age up to 7. They finally found out, but they didn’t care,” Davis said.

After graduating from Douglass and turning 18, she went to barber school in Tyler, Texas. She returned to El Paso and began cutting hair at Fort Bliss.

What drew her to being a barber? “Nothing, baby. You understand, ain’t no job but money,” she said with a laugh.

Estine Davis’ barber shop on Piedras was considered “Eastside” in the 1950s. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Over the decades, Davis has cut the hair of men and women from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. To her, hair is hair. But her focus has been providing cuts and styling for Black men in a city where African-American barbers are scarce.

She worked for a few years at Fort Bliss, charging $1.50 for a haircut at first. Davis went to work in the mid-1950s for a barber named Sam McKenzie on Piedras Street near Alameda Avenue, in the heart of a thriving commercial area for Black-owned businesses.

“We did real good then until me and him fell out. He called me something and I must have called him another something,” Davis said.

In 1959, she went to work at another barber shop on Piedras near Alameda, which was owned by her godfather, Roscoe Marlin. He and his wife had paid for Davis to go to barber school.

At some point in the mid-1960s — Davis isn’t sure of the exact year — Marlin turned the barber shop over to her.

“He sat right over there in that chair and said, I’m just tired of looking at hair and I’m just tired of hair. I’d rather go out there and cut some grass,” she said.

Running her own businesses

That was the beginning of Estine Eastside Barber Shop. The Piedras-Alameda neighborhood is in what is now Central El Paso, but in the 1950s and ‘60s it was considered to be on the Eastside of the city.

Standing barely 5 feet tall, Davis commanded respect and her barber shop became a hub of the Black community.

Estine Davis answers a call from her son on a rotary phone in her barber shop on Piedras. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“You learned so much about what’s going on in the community,” said Dana Pittard, who grew up in El Paso and went on to an Army career that saw him rise to major general and command of Fort Bliss.

And she was never shy about sharing her thoughts.

“She would get personal and say, who you dating these days? And I might mention a name and because the African-American community is so small, it’s like, oh, I know her. She’s no good,”  said Pittard, who now lives in Indiana.

Davis makes no apologies for her persona. “I always have been this way. I say what I feel like. If you don’t like it, I really don’t care.”

Davis also founded Estine Fashion Models and was a driving force for years for the Miss Black El Paso Pageant. Starting in 1982, she entered floats each year in the Sun Bowl Parade.

One area where Davis admits she didn’t have much success was marriage. She said that’s why she devoted so much time to her businesses and community activities.

“I was marrying so much and I sure did get sick of them,” she said with a laugh.

Davis said Judge Woodrow Bean II once told her, “If you get married again, I’m going to tell you right now, I’m going to put you in jail, not them.”

Davis raised two sons, Michael and William. Michael lives in Virginia and helped organize the birthday parade in honor of his mother. William passed away two years ago in El Paso.

Famous customers

For the first half of the 20th century, El Paso’s Black community was concentrated in a neighborhood just east of Downtown. The intersection of Piedras and Alameda served as a commercial hub for the Black community, featuring bars, restaurants, beauticians and barbers.

Davis grew up in that neighborhood. But by the time she took over her godfather’s barber shop in the mid-1960s, El Paso was changing. Schools had desegregated a decade earlier. The construction of Interstate 10 in the early 1960s bisected the city’s historic Black neighborhood, hastening its demise. A growing Black population, largely tied to Fort Bliss, began settling more in the East and Northeast parts of El Paso.

Estine Davis, caught in a flurry of birthday balloons, waves to the parade of family and friends who drove by her barber shop on Dec. 5, 2020 to celebrate her 88th birthday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

But Davis’ barber shop continued to be a gathering spot, even as other Black-owned businesses in the old neighborhood closed their doors in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Most of my friends who were African-American at Eastwood went to Estine’s. In fact, you would really see contemporaries from about five different high schools. It would be Eastwood, Bel Air, Burges, Andress, Austin primarily,” said Pittard, the retired Army general who went to high school in the mid-1970s.

Dana Pittard

Davis cut the hair of several players on the 1966 Texas Western College national basketball champions. She did the same for entertainers like Little Richard and the Harlem Globetrotters when they came through town.

Davis also was the barber for numerous El Paso boys like Pittard and Stallworth who went on to great success in life — Greg Allen, now El Paso’s chief of police; Marc Carter, who became a judge in Houston; Nolan Richardson, who went on to be a Hall of Fame college basketball coach.

Pittard got his first haircut from Davis when he was 9. She continued to cut his hair until he graduated from Eastwood High School in 1977 and headed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Davis was his barber “through the whole stage of very short hair in fifth grade to having an afro. She used to have these things called blow-out kits,” Pittard recalled with a chuckle.

He said he always trusted Davis because ”she knows my hair.”

“In fact, when I was going to West Point it was like, well what’s going to happen Miss Davis, you’re not going to be up there. And she said, well, you won’t have anything to worry about because you won’t have any hair.”

Ron Stallworth

Stallworth began going to Davis’ barber shop as a teen in the late 1960s, leaving another barber after his mother agreed to let him pay an extra 25 cents for what he saw as a superior haircut. He was a regular customer until he graduated from Austin High School in 1971 and left El Paso for a 32-year law-enforcement career that included an undercover investigation of the Ku Klux Klan that led to his book and an Oscar-winning movie directed by Spike Lee.

“Whenever I paid a visit to El Paso over the years, I would always stop in and say hi to her and have her cut my hair,” Stallworth said.

He moved back to El Paso four years ago and brought his wife, Patsy, to the barber shop to meet Davis.

“I’m sitting in her chair, she’s cutting my hair, and I made a derogatory remark about a mutual acquaintance of ours. And next thing I felt on the back of my head was Estine’s hand slapping me. And I said, Miss Estine, I’m 63 years old. And she said, I don’t care, you’re still one of my babies and I don’t like you talking like that.”

The future

Davis drives her 2004 Lexus to work five days a week and charges $13 for a basic haircut. She’s active at Shiloh Baptist Church, though a bit miffed because COVID-19 has led the church to scale back activities. She gets together with friends, and sometimes surreptitiously checks in on a rival barber.

“I keep the shop open just to keep my health up. That’s what people got to learn. Money is good, but hell, if you’re in bad shape you can’t even spend it,” Davis said.

Estine Davis will celebrate her 88th birthday this weekend. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Her barber shop is the last remaining business from El Paso’s historic Black commercial district. COVID-19 has heavily impacted her business, as customers delay haircuts or forego them altogether.

Her son Michael has asked her to move to Virginia to be closer to him, but she has no interest in leaving El Paso’s desert climate.

“I’m an asthmatic patient and it won’t help me none. I love my son but I love my health,” she explained.

Davis isn’t one for regrets.

“I can say I laugh a lot of times. I can say I cry some times. And I can say all of it was fun, I guess.”

Cover photo: After celebrating her 88th birthday on Dec. 5, Estine Davis returns to cutting hair in her barber shop. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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

Categories: Local Blogs

Biden ends ‘Remain in Mexico,’ allowing thousands of migrants to stay in U.S. for asylum cases

Sun, 02/14/2021 - 3:50pm

Migrants trapped in Mexico for more than a year by one of former President Trump’s most controversial policies rejoiced to the news Friday that the Biden administration was ending the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols and allowing people in that program to gradually come to the United States to pursue asylum claims.

“What did we feel when we heard this news? Joy!” said Jorge, a Guatemalan man who’s been in Mexico since July 2019.

“Because after being here so long, with this sickness we have (COVID-19), we don’t have the freedom to go out, it’s ugly here. But to have the news that they are going to start to let us cross to the other side, and to finish our process over there while being with our relatives, it’s a huge joy to know that maybe all this will finally be over. We are very happy, truly,” said Jorge, who has been living in a Juárez shelter and asked that his full name not be used because he fears for his safety.

Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “remain in Mexico,” began in January 2019 and was part of the Trump administration’s strategy of deterring migrants from coming to the border by making crossings more difficult and more dangerous. Human rights groups said the policy of forcing migrants to stay in Juárez and other dangerous northern Mexican cities was inhumane, subjecting them to kidnappings, attacks, sexual assaults, threats and other cruelty.

“It’s been a very difficult two years. We’ve seen unbearable suffering from the people that we served. From kidnapping victims, rape victims, the most horrific stories, the people that are in remain in Mexico have lived through that. Our big frustration is that this didn’t come down soon enough,” said Linda Rivas, executive director of El Paso’s Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which has provided services to people in MPP.

The Department of Homeland Security will start allowing the approximately 25,000 people still in MPP with active asylum claims to enter the United States beginning Feb. 19. The Biden administration provided few details about the process of bringing MPP participants into the United States, other than to say it will be “safe and orderly.” The Los Angeles Times reported that they will initially come to the United States through ports of entry in El Paso and Brownsville in Texas and Calexico in California, with only a few hundred people allowed to enter per day.

Fatima, who asked that her full name not be used to protect her family, came to the border from El Salvador almost two years ago with her husband and three children. She is due to have a baby on Feb. 17, before the Biden administration plans to begin allowing MPP participants to enter the United States.

“We felt happiness because finally there will be justice. Because I believe that it was unjust that we have been here so long waiting,” said Fatima, who has been living in a Juárez shelter. “I would have liked the baby to born in the U.S., but I trust that God knows what he’s doing.”

Fatima, a Central American asylum seeker who is expecting a baby girl on Feb. 17, is joyful at learning that individuals in the MPP program will soon be allowed to enter the US as they await their court hearings. Fatima has been in Mexico with her husband and three children for almost two years. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Ending MPP fulfills a promise that President Biden made during the 2020 election campaign and restores long-standing practices of allowing people to live in the United States while pursuing asylum claims. But Biden administration officials are wary of sending signals to Central America and elsewhere that could trigger a migration surge similar to that seen in 2018 and 2019. That was reflected in Friday’s announcement of MPP’s demise.

“As President Biden has made clear, the U.S. government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said. “This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values. Especially at the border, however, where capacity constraints remain serious, changes will take time. Individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border.  Due to the current pandemic, restrictions at the border remain in place and will be enforced.”

The announcement on MPP also said “this announcement should not be interpreted as an opening for people to migrate irregularly to the United States.”

People in Migrant Protection Protocols were brought into El Paso immigration court on March 16, 2020. It was the last day MPP hearings were conducted in El Paso because of the pandemic, leaving thousands of people in further uncertainty. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)

Most MPP participants allowed into the United States are expected to join family members throughout the United States. Those coming from Juárez may stay in El Paso shelters for a few days while their families arrange transportation.

The Biden administration said MPP participants will be tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to enter the United States, and will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing during processing.

Rivas of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center said she was encouraged by the administration’s orderly approach to bringing people in MPP into the United States.

“This is beginning to restore our asylum system. We should be welcoming people who seek refuge in this country with dignity. This is a good first step but it can’t be the last step,” she said.

Seeking asylum is a legal means of entry into the United States. For much of the world’s population, it is the only legal means open to them.

More than 71,000 migrants were placed in MPP, according to the Transactional Resource Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which tracks the federal court system. Almost 25,000 of those cases were assigned to El Paso immigration courts, the highest number for any city. Most of those people were sent back to Juárez.

Immigration courts stopped holding hearings in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving it uncertain when the asylum claims of many migrants would ever be heard.

Before the pandemic, almost 33,000 MPP participants were given what is known as a “removal order,” the first court step toward deportation. Only about 800 of them were represented by a lawyer, a much lower rate than for people who pursue asylum claims while in the United States. Attorneys said it was extraordinarily difficult to connect with potential clients in Mexico, and immigration courts prohibited lawyers from meeting with groups of migrants ahead of hearings to do a basic presentation on their rights.

Tens of thousands of migrants abandoned the asylum process after being forced to remain in Mexico, their advocates have said. An estimated 25,000 people — mostly from Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — still have active asylum cases through MPP.

In El Paso courts, about 11,000 of the 25,000 people with MPP cases didn’t attend their last scheduled hearing and lost their claims in absentia. About 5,000 attended all their hearings and another 9,000 have never been given a hearing, according to TRAC data.

Attorneys and other advocates have said it is difficult for people to get from shelters and other locations in Juárez to the Paso del Norte Bridge at an appointed time for their hearings. It’s unknown how many people failed to show at court hearings because they were abandoning asylum claims and how many did so because they were unable to get to the bridge on time.

Officials have estimated that about 11,000 MPP participants remain in Juárez.

Corrie Boudreaux, René Kladzyk and Robert Moore contributed to this story.

Cover photo: Jorge, an asylum seeker from Central America living in Juárez, smiles at the news that individuals in the “Remain in Mexico” process will soon be allowed to enter the United States. Jorge and his family fled their country after his wife was almost killed and have been in Mexico since July 2019. (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

Local business in Juarez adapts to border shutdown

Sun, 02/14/2021 - 12:57pm

CIUDAD JUAREZ — Months after the U.S.-Mexico border was closed to all but essential travel as a COVID-19 precaution, small businesses have been forced to find ways to new ways to cope.

“Many of our clients are from El Paso, so at first, they didn’t come as often because the situation was difficult,” said Natalia Briceño, 23, creative director for the nail salon Durazno Claro.

After her two sisters and a cousin opened up the nail salon in June of 2019 in Ciudad Juárez, Briceño joined in September as the business’ demand rose quickly. The salon has customers from both sides of the border, enticing those coming from the U.S. with prices nearly half than what businesses in El Paso charge.

As COVID-19 spread throughout the two cities, it closed its doors in March for three months when the governor of Chihuahua ordered non-essential businesses to close as cases spiked. The border has been closed for Mexican nationals for nearly eight months now.

Since reopening on June 15 for its binational customers, Briceño has been surprised to find people were eager to return to get their nails done. The salon’s appointment schedule quickly filled up.

Even though clients from El Paso face the possibility of longer wait times at international bridges after U.S. Customs and Border Patrol began efforts in August to discourage non-essential travel from Mexico, Durazno Claro has seen an influx of clients from the U.S. side of the border.

“After two, three weeks they slowly started to return. Even a week ago many of our clients came from El Paso,” Briceño said.

In order to keep employees and customers safe, the business now follows strict protocols, like requiring face masks, disinfecting tools more often and having customers step on a sponge mat soaked with disinfectant to kill germs on their shoes. The salon also checks temperatures before customers enter to get their nails done.

“I went back immediately because I was sure they would take the necessary precautions,” said Paola Peña, 23, another customer from El Paso. “I never get nervous when going.”

Even if the business is not considered essential, Briseida Mota, 26, an El Paso resident who crosses the border to get a set of gel nails at Durazno Claro, continues to go on a monthly basis and says she considers the salon’s services essential — but not only for aesthetic purposes.

“I go do my nails once a month and, if I don’t have my nails, actually they start hurting because they have become very thin,” Mota said, noting how the gel is applied in layers in order to thicken the nail.

The business is struggling with another issue caused by the border shutdown. they would buy most of the items they use in El Paso since it was cheaper to buy .

Before the pandemic led to a border shutdown, the salon’s owners crossed the border to purchase tools and supplies.

“There are things we buy from the U.S. and the fact that we cannot cross is complicated,” Briceño said. “It slows down the periods of having to go purchase things and bringing them back here.”

Although they have found deals on the internet, once the border reopens, Briceño said the plan is to keep buying some items online, but said they are desperate to be able to cross in order to avoid waiting for products that are easily bought in bulk in El Paso.

Categories: Local Blogs

Photo Essay: In-person church services resume in Ciudad Juárez for the first time since September

Fri, 02/12/2021 - 12:57pm

San Felipe de Jesús parish is one of the many churches that re-opened its doors to the public in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico at the end of January. About 35 people came to the church to celebrate Mass, all respecting social distancing guidelines and wearing masks.

In an attempt to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, the state government of Chihuahua suspended all public religious services in September, the second time since the start of the pandemic last spring. Chihuahua’s restrictions are based on a street-light-inspired system defined by specific indicators, such as hospital bed capacity. When the state transitioned to the color yellow in January, churches were allowed to reopen to the public at 30% capacity and limited to a maximum of 100 people.

The celebration at San Felipe de Jesús was set to begin at 9 a.m., but many arrived half an hour before. Entire families and single adults were seen entering the doors of a place they had only been able to see through a screen for many months, but one thing was certain: they were ready to experience Mass in person again. These images capture what it was like on Sunday, Jan. 24.

Carmen Soledad checks the temperature of mass attendees to ensure no one with a fever enters the temple.

Mariana Chávez pours hand sanitizer on the hands of all attendees before entrance at San Felipe de Jesus parish.

Enrique Luna plays the guitar for the choir at Mass.

Arlene Valdez writes down the lyrics for one of the songs she will sing during Mass as part of the choir.

A single man prays in front of the altar before Mass begins at San Felipe de Jesús parish.

Benches inside the temple at San Felipe de Jesús have signs to designate where attendees can sit in order to respect social distancing.

All attendees are seated in an order that respects social distancing guidelines imposed by the state government of Chihuahua.

Father Juan Carlos Lopez officiates Mass in green attire, which signifies Ordinary Time in the Catholic church.

Father Juan Carlos López makes the consecration in front of about 35 attendees. This is the first time that people are allowed to enter the temple for Mass since September. due to Covid-19 restrictions, in Ciudad Juárez.

Father Juan Carlos López , wearing a mask and a face shield, gives communion to a woman during Mass.

Categories: Local Blogs

by Dr. Radut