April 9, 2004

Palomas, Chihuahua Seemingly Unaffected by Nationwide Crackdown on Illegal Migration

On March 24, 2004, Frontera NorteSur reported on the arrests of immigration officials and their associates across Mexico. A day later, an article from the Cd. Juárez newspaper El Diario notes that despite the strikes against emigration-related corruption in Mexico, the mechanisms of illegal emigration have been unaffected in the border town of Palomas, Chihuahua.

Just like everyday, Palomas’ main plaza is occupied by men, women and even children with backpacks that are waiting for migrant-traffickers known as “coyotes” or “polleros” to take them into the US.

Ricardo Montoya, the mayor of Palomas, says that more than 1,000 people per week arrive to Palomas to cross into the neighboring nation to the north. Each day three to four busses filled with undocumented migrants arrive to this border city of approximately 8,000 permanent residents. Each bus brings between 40 and 50 people.

Instead of a decrease in the number of people that are trying to illegally cross to the US, Montoya says he notes an increase—but not that he can do anything about it or would necessarily want to do anything. Montoya does not have adequate law enforcement resources and emigration is big business to Palomas’ hotels, restaurants and street vendors.

Palomas Law Enforcement

Located about ninety miles west of Cd. Juárez (150 kilometers), Palomas has eleven city police officers, two state police officers and one state agent from the Ministerio Público (Public Ministry).

In Mexico, the Constitution is such that city police can only stops crimes in progress and they do not have any powers of undercover investigation. This means that they do not do much good in a fight against the emigration industry.

This leaves three state agents to conduct various sorts of investigations in a town of 8,000 people.

Besides not having enough personnel, the mayor says with a laugh that all 14 law enforcement officers “do whatever they want.”

When asked about immigration-related corruption among the police, Montoya states that at times people go to him and say that a specific officer has been talking with a coyote. “But I tell them that they should also tell me what it is they are talking about, because maybe they are discussing something else,” he notes.

No federal agency has yet to show up in Palomas to investigate migrant-smuggling, says Montoya.

The Emigration Industry of a Small Border City

Palomas has one paved road—the road into town—and on it are hotels, motels, bars and restaurants. Behind this street are more of the same only they are cheaper than the establishments on the main drag.

“The hotels are always full here,” Montoya notes.

According to El Diario, Palomas has 12 hotels, nine restaurants and dozens of food stands along the streets.

While most of Palomas’ citizens work in US fields (with most of them having received citizenship in the US during the amnesty of the 1980s), some work in construction while the rest live off of selling what they can to migrants, according to the mayor.

“Las Chepas”

Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez is an ejido (commonly owned area) along the border, located 18 miles (30 kilometers) from Palomas. Known locally as “Las Chepas” the ejido is home to 40 families that try to survive on farming and a few head of cattle.

These businesses are not sufficient however so the families have stores that sell to would-be emigrants as they pass through the area on their way to the US.

According to the mayor, prices from Palomas and Las Chepas to Deming, New Mexico (which is on I-10) range from US$300 to US$500. To get to Albuquerque costs between US$1,800 and US$2,200.

Once a migrant has crossed into the US with the help of a coyote, he or she can do it alone the next time, the mayor notes.

Border Security

Mayor Montoya believes that the United States does have a large presence on the border—but people get through anyways.

“The coyotes know it all,” he says about their ability to elude the US Border Patrol. “Sometimes they [the Border Patrol] will return migrants to Mexico in the morning but in the afternoon they’ll go back [to the US].”

There are notoriously few people that give up and get on a bus to return to their homes, he states.

For Montoya, the migrants are “failures that frequently ask for help and sometimes we have to give them food.” But they always find the money to pay the coyote, he notes.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line news coverage of the US-Mexico border http://frontera. nmsu.edu

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