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My Trip To El Paso
by Ginger Germany

 
I decided to share the experiences of my trip to El Paso with API. 

I live in Dallas, TX. I had to be in El Paso for a week and most of my time was tied up in the office while there. However, I did have all afternoon Saturday and all day Sunday to myself. Because I have been keeping up with news about conditions on our border, I chose to not participate in the typical tourist attractions marketed on the border. I went looking for the holes. 

I don't have any investigative skills, not any kind of law enforcement, no special training, no military, no expertise in security whatsoever; I am just an average American who couldn't slap my butt with both hands and a road map, for the most part. I say that to you because I want you to understand that I did not exercise any kind of special powers of observation in my trip. I simply ended up with time on my hands and a predisposed interest in my country's inability to control our border. 

I was originally only going to go down to the border in El Paso and observe, just wanted to see a POE and the fences separating us from the third world. It was about 10:00 am on Sunday morning that I went south on Avenue of the Americas, and then west on Highway 375, the Border Highway. As I cruised west, there was not a lot to see; double fences and a concrete ditch in the middle of them containing water. As I neared the west end of the highway, I saw a pull out where the TX DOT stores sand, gravel and road repair materials. The concrete had changed to natural embankments somewhere, and directly across from the pull out there were Mexicans on the Mexican side of the border playing in the river. Being the good tourist, I wanted to snap a few photos, so parked and got out of my car to mount one of the huge boulders placed there as decoration to get a better vantage point for my snapshot. As I was standing on the boulder trying to get my camera working, a Mexican charged the border fence, and dove under it, running across the 4 lane highway, passing within about 15 feet of me, and on up the embankment behind me. A Border Patrol pulled up and stopped on the shoulder of the highway about 100 feet from me (I am terrible at guesstimating distances). He was watching me, and I don't think he even saw the Mexican dive under the fence. But the Mexican fence diver evidently saw the BP, because the Mexican ran back down the embankment, back across the highway, and dove back under the fence. I was in shock when he crossed to the US side, and didn't react fast enough to get my camera into action; but I did get a picture of his rump headed back to Mexico. The BP watched him dive back under the fence, sat there a few more seconds as I took his picture, and finally drove on. I snapped a few more pictures and also moved on down the highway. 

The highway eventually plays out, and becomes Paisano Avenue. At one point there is a train trellis that crosses the roadway from north to south for freight trains to enter the US from Mexico. The visibility is a little bit limited as the train comes out of the mountains in Mexico before it enters the US. I'm sure I wouldn't have noticed the train trellis if there had not been a train crossing into the US while I was there. I found an opportunity to park for more pictures. When I was focusing my camera on the crossing train, I could see Mexicans literally hanging on the box cars, on the roofs, and hanging on the sides, on the ladders, and we are not talking about just one or two wearing uniforms or giving the appearance of being employees or anything. 

This was about 10 or 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning, in the middle of town in El Paso, in the middle of a high traffic roadway; the area was not by any means deserted. Because of my previous interest in border control, I knew that Douglas, AZ and Cochise County is considered ground zero for the highest volume of illegal traffic. I had not originally planned on going to Douglas: I am so broke I can hardly afford to pay attention and did not want to spend the gas money on the excursion. What I had just witnessed inspired me - made it mandatory - for me to make the trip on over to Douglas. So, I set sail. 

I got back on Interstate 10 and ran it over to Demming, NM. From there I went south on highway 11. The town of Demming is not exactly a shining example of a major metropolitan area, but it did have sort of a semblance of a small American town. Once getting out of town, the urban developments began to appear. Those urban developments are trailer parks. I saw something like them once before. Some 30 years ago my father took the family on vacation to Acapulco, and hired a cab to drive us out into the countryside, away from the tourism areas, so we could see the real Mexico. Those images were burned into my memory; the sight of Mexicans living in cardboard shacks and washing clothes by pounding them in the river left a definite impression on my youthful American mind. The urban development I began seeing after leaving Demming wasn't all that different from what I had seen of urban development in Mexico as a child. Corrugated tin walls, tar paper over windows, and cardboard shingles. 

I followed highway 11 all the way down to Columbus and Palomas POE. Along the way I saw many Mexicans walking south on the highway, individuals and groups, carrying stuffed back packs and some luggage and shopping bags, some wearing fresh, new appearing clothes, and others less wholesome looking. I snapped a few pics, but not many. 

Approaching the Palomas POE there two retail stores, and there is nothing remarkable about them, other than it just struck me as weird. One is a free standing building, isolated all by itself, housing a Family Dollar store, sitting nearly on top of the POE. The other is a convenience store with a prominent Western Union sign. There is a parking area at the POE where you can park and walk across to Mexico, or you can drive your car. Very few cars were headed south, and a few pedestrians. There were hundreds of cars lined up going through the POE northbound. I went down a little road sort of behind the convenience store to get a better vantage point, and snapped some pics of the POE. 

I went back north about 7 or 8 miles on highway 11 and turned west on highway 9. The same urban developments made up the majority of the housing in the area. There is the occasional ranch house once outside of town, but most are the shanty town trailer parks. I started looking for another road to go back south toward the border. I was in a car, so many of the dirt roads were not accessible to me; one county road - 774? I think - looked like you needed an ATV to get down it. ATVs might be popular in the area; I don't know; but I did see two young Mexican girls who had one stalled out in the middle of this little goat trail they call a highway. 

Not long after I headed west on highway 9, within a very few miles, I began seeing blue plastic bags hanging on trees, fence posts and telephone poles. Just prior to leaving on my trip, I had learned that blue bags were used as markers by the coyotes to coordinate pick up of illegal aliens for transport into the interior. Before making the trip, I was skeptical of that piece of information, so skeptical I had forgotten all about it. As soon as I saw the first one hung on a telephone pole, I remembered the information, but still had my doubts; they have a serious litter problem in the area; our southwest desert might be a lot of things, but pristine is not one of them. After passing up 3 or 4 of these blue markers within as many miles, my curiosity couldn't take it any more. There was no where to pull over, and there was pretty much nothing out there but me and the rattlesnakes, so I politely threw the brakes on and parked right in the middle of the highway and got out of my car to retrieve the bag. When I got out of my car, I was still convinced the wind had blown the bag and it caught in the mesquite tree. I thought I would just snatch the tree off the thorny tree, and allay my fears. The bag was not just caught on the tree. The bag was purposefully pulled down over branches of the tree, and taped with black electrical tape; I had to work to get the bag pulled out of the mesquite tree. I got back in my car and went on until I saw the next one, this time on the scraps of a fence post; same thing, with the bag taped purposefully to the post with black electrical tape. I continued my journey west bound on highway 9, sometimes finding a dirt road I could take my car down for a small way, but never able to go far enough to near the border. I lost count of how many blue bags I yanked down; 20? 30? 40? I don't know how many; lots; my hands are chewed up from being stuffed down into so many mesquite trees. The only variation was whether black electrical tape or silver duct tape was used to secure them. Where I was pulling the second one off the fence post, there was a ranch house in plain view maybe 1/4 mile away (terrible at guesstimating distance). I wasn't in any special hurry when getting the first bag, and wasn't in a hurry when I first stopped for the second. But then it dawned on me that the person placing the markers might very well be sitting in the ranch house observing my destruction of the marker. I got in a little bigger hurry about pulling the bags down once that revelation came to me, thinking I was unarmed, alone, and drug smugglers and human smugglers are noted for killing people who try to impede their progress of diversifying America. 

On my drive across highway 9, to where it ties into highway 80 at Rodeo. I could sometimes see groups of people walking across the desert, well off the roadway. There are farms in the area, and they might have been farm laborers; at least that is what I told myself. I was also seeing a lot of Border Patrol trucks. Most of them were parked somewhere near the highway, often near culverts or washes. I counted up to 16 that I saw, and stopped counting after that. 

By the time I got into Douglas, it was getting to be early evening, about 7:00 pm. I didn't linger in Douglas. I started thinking about the possibility of blowing a tire of having car trouble in the remote areas before I could get back to Interstate 10, and the elements I had seen walking the desert floor. I drove up and down a couple of the main streets in town, paid $1.79 a gallon for gas, bought a Dr. Pepper and headed out. I saw nothing but Mexicans. I was stared at and made to feel very uncomfortable buying my gas. If the people I came into contact with spoke any English, they refused to do so. There was a house right next door to the Circle K store where I bought my gas. There were some Mexican women sitting on the porch when I pulled up to the pump facing them. They were staring at me, hard. One of them shouted something, and a group of Mexican men, 4 or 5 of them, walked around from the opposite corner of the house to stand near the porch, brief conversation with the women, and stare at me. It wasn't exactly a friendly stare; I was not unattractive in my younger days, and have been stared at before; this was a whole new ball game. 

I am a sucker for historical markers, and will usually pull off to check them out. There is a historical marker on the east bound side of 80 headed out of Douglas. It is the marker denoting the location where Geronimo surrendered, ending Indian wars in the US forever. When I pulled into the parking area, a pick up followed me. I was already standing reading the marker when the truck pulled in, and I naturally turned to see if I needed to run like hell or if I was still safe. It was an older white man who exited the pick up and was walking toward me, obviously suspicious of me being stopped there; the expression on his face said it all. He was friendly though, and walked directly up to me and said hello and opened conversation with me. We talked a bit about Geronimo, he told me he worked for the AZ DOT, we talked about the Mexican trucks coming across the border, and I told him where I had been prowling around all day. He related a story to me about his wife pulling off to the shoulder of the road once recently to get something out of the trunk of her car, and a swarm of Mexicans running out of the wash just below to throw bales of marijuana into her trunk, thinking she was the pick up. He told me the illegals were walking the desert all around us by the hundreds, and started scanning the horizon. Within seconds he pointed out across the desert and asked if I could see them. I guess I don't have Eagle eyes, because we had to get the binoculars out of his pick up before I could see them; it was a large group, carrying white plastic water jugs. He kept talking, telling me they were literally all around us. I really started wanting to get out of there, so politely closed conversation with him and headed back to civilization on Interstate 10. 

The next day I had to spend in the office. The company finished with me and I was free to go back home to Dallas by about 2:00 pm. I headed out of El Paso on Interstate 10. I didn't get very far until I decided I still had a roll of film unused, and I still hadn't gotten any good pictures of the Rio Grande. I exited the interstate at Fabens, and went down to the POE there. 

I don't know what the population of Fabens is, but it can't be more than a few hundred. The abject poverty and appearance of being nothing more than a rural Mexican village persisted. 

At the POE, I thought I was pulling into the parking area, and wound up instead in the lane that sends you to Mexico. There are concrete barriers like the ones used in highway construction, and only one lane wide. There are the one way spikes in the lane, the ones you can't back up over without tearing up your tires. I kind of freaked out; I wasn't planning on taking my car to Mexico. Lucky for me, there was a break in the barricade just before the lanes forced you into Mexico, and I pulled through the opening and turned around. Just like at the other POEs, there were hundreds of cars waiting in line to enter the US; hundreds; the line wound back out of sight on the Mexican side of the border. I knew one thing for sure ,and that was that I was not about to go to Mexico to get at the end of the line; nope; wasn't happening. I waited for about 30 or 45 minutes trying to break in line to get back where I belonged; the incoming Mexicans were not friendly, polite, nor courteous about letting me correct my obvious screw up; they glared at me angrily and deliberately would not leave a whisper of an opening for me to get in line. After sitting there that long, I was grateful when one man in a pick up finally let me in. There were Mexican urchins running up and down the line of cars begging for money, and when they approached my car they started sticking their hands and arms inside my car through the open windows, trying to reach stuff in my car; I rolled my windows up and turned my air conditioner to put a stop to it. They didn't do that to the Mexicans waiting in line in cars, but only begged from them. 

There were three Border Patrol agents working. When I pulled up, I expected to be asked for ID and some kind of proof of citizenship. I was a little worried because all I had was my driver license and social security card, and some other miscellaneous stuff with my name and address on it. I got it all dug out of my purse ready for presentation while waiting in line. Imagine my surprise when the Border Patrol agent merely asked the question, "What is your citizenship?" No let me see your ID, no further questions. I answered him, "Texan! American Texan!" End of conversation with Border Patrol. Pull forward and continue on into the US. Not exactly what I expected under homeland defense orange terrorist alert status. I really wanted to give them benefit of the doubt, and like lightening it ran through my mind that I am pretty obviously an American, so they didn't badger me with a lot of bureaucracy. Being the curious cat that I am, there is an area where you can pull to the curb under the awning, not 10 feet from where they are checking the carloads of people across the border into the US. I pulled to the curb and got out as if I wanted something out of my trunk. I fiddle farted around for 10 minutes, digging through the suitcase in my trunk, in reality observing the border inspections taking place not a car length away. I could see and hear everything that was going on. The Border Patrol did not ask to see a single document from anyone. That one single question was all that was asked: "What is your citizenship?" In Spanish. And if what rolled out of their mouth even remotely sounded like Norte Americano, they were given the go ahead. I left the Fabens POE wondering whose country the Border Patrol is protecting. 

I took off east out of Fabens east bound on highway 20. I still didn't have any pics of the river. Within a couple of miles, I spotted a dirt road running south. I took off down the dirt road and it took me right down to the river. There are no fences nor markers of any kind. I could look back up river and see the Fabens POE from where I was. There was no one around; no houses, no sign of humanity. I got it in my head to see just how easy it was to cross the river. I walked down to the bank, jerked my shoes and socks off, rolled up my pant legs and waded across the river. I climbed up the bank on the Mexican side, and wondered if anyone had taken notice of my transgression. I reasoned that if I had been observed, it might take them a few minutes to swoop on me to ask questions. I lit a cigarette and stood in Mexico to smoke it, waiting for what I was sure would be an inevitable Border Patrol to come ask questions. I finished my cigarette and waded back across to the US. My shoes were on the bank where I left them, but my feet were wet and muddy. It was some tough going for this tenderfoot to get back to my car. I don't keep a lot of toiletries in my car, so didn't have any way to clean the mud off my feet or dry them. So away I went down driving my car down highway 20 with muddy, bare feet. 

I ventured down several more dirt roads to the Rio Grande, and repeated my antics. I smoked half a pack of cigarettes in Mexico this last Monday. Pick a spot, any spot, and anyone in the world has free access to this country. 

Highway 20 eventually plays out in Esperanza, and you have to get back on Interstate 10. Plus the border starts running south and I wanted to go east to Dallas. The next thing you run into on interstate 10 is the Inspection Station at Sierra Blanca. They had the orange cones out routing all the traffic off the highway and through the check station. There were a lot of cars, several 18 wheelers, and two RVs in line around me. Pretty much all the Border Patrol was doing at the Sierra Blanca check point was creating a traffic jam. I watched them wave the truck and the RV directly in front of me straight through. I pulled up, moving maybe 5-7 mph, and they waved me straight through. There I sat in my car with wet Rio Grande mud clear up to my knees, driving barefoot, and no one the wiser. I could have loaded drugs, or illegal aliens, or nuclear bombs into the trunk of my car during any one of my illegal border crossings. And I could have been on my merry way to any American city with my cargo, no questions asked; all I would have to do to make delivery would be obey the speed limits and traffic laws to avoid getting stopped by local police. Hi ho Silver. 

One thing I definitely know for a fact: we don't have a southern border. Anything and everything below I-10 from El Paso over to at least Douglas, AZ is United States territory in name only. The Mexicans are running that entire area to suit Mexico. And they are doing it with our Federal Tax dollars. Happy April 15. Pay your mordida to Mexico like a good little American.

 

2003 Mark A. Lewis