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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Border life goes on despite bill failure and threat to 'shut it down.'

EL PASO, Texas – What does it mean when President Joe Biden says he will "shut down the border"? Or when former President Donald Trump says it on the campaign trail? Adair Margo, for one, would like an answer. The art historian and former first lady of El Paso crisscrosses the U.S.-Mexico border to Ciudad Juárez all the time. The claim means something different to those who live on the border than to politicians nearly 2,000 miles away in Washington, D.C. From a lookout point on the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, Texas, visitors can view the borderline separating the city from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The two cities are the largest binational community on the U.S.-Mexico border. “No one is very clear about their language,” Margo said. Any attempt to close the border, she said, “would be like having a huge blockade in the middle of a neighborhood." Republicans killed a bipartisan border security bill last week after months of negotiation and repeated calls to "shut down the border." But political rhetoric around the U.S.-Mexico border is likely to only intensify this presidential election year. That frustrates many border residents whose lives depend on both sides and who worry they could lose that freedom of movement. The border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, executed under a federal emergency order, left a bitter taste that few have forgotten. Prep for the polls: See who is running for president and compare where they stand on key issues in our Voter Guide Nineteen million Americans live along the 2,000-mile-long U.S. southern border, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Another 11 million people live on the Mexican side. Adair Margo, then El Paso's first lady, gives a historic walking tour of the original Catholic mission in the Paso del Norte in May 2019. The mission lies seven blocks south of El Paso in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. "When people talk about closing the border, that is a terrifying idea to people who live here," said Jeremy Slack, professor of geography at the University of Texas at El Paso. "The community doesn’t stop at the international line." Border rhetoric has real-world consequences Border residents know the economic and emotional cost of repeated migrant humanitarian crises better than anyone. They also know the border can't be opened and shut like a drawer. Metro El Paso and Juárez make up the border's largest binational community, with about 2.7 million people. Every day, thousands cross one of four international bridges on their way to work in hospitals, daycares, universities, construction sites, warehouses, factories, shops and firms. They head northbound to El Paso, southbound to Juárez. A local Facebook group called the Bridges Report – in Spanish, "Reporte de Puentes" – with 348,468 members, crowdsources information about border wait times, and locals check it like the weather. The messages stack up day and night: photos of a stream of red taillights, notes on the length of the line. People begin to line up at the Zaragoza Bridge heading north to the U.S. from Ciudad Juarez. Hundreds of students cross the international border between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso daily to attend public schools. Fernanda Soto, 20, lives in Juárez and studies at the University of Texas at El Paso; she is preparing for a career in medicine. The campus in the Franklin Mountain foothills overlooks a neighborhood in Juárez and the Rio Grande. The north bank is lined with razor wire laid by the Texas National Guard, tangled with the torn clothing of migrants. Soto said she doesn't pay much attention to the news but she heard Biden's comment about shutting down the border. "Everyone is talking about it," she said. During COVID-19, border residents lived through 597 days of border restrictions during the Trump and Biden administrations, while Soto, a dual citizen, attended high school in the U.S. Her Mexican father missed her senior year basketball season because of the restrictions. But, "even during COVID, they didn’t really shut it down," she said. U.S. citizens could still cross the border, and they did by the hundreds of thousands each month. The mayor of Juárez, Cruz Perez Cuellar, recently chalked up Biden's "hardened discourse" to Trump's lead in the Republican primaries. "We are in an election year, both in the United States and Mexico," he said in a press conference last month. "It’s something that 'fronterizos' and Mexicans know how to live with.” Camilo Chavarria Jaques and his wife Amelia Armas Duran waited to cross the Paso Del Norte international bridge linking Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, as they waited for the reopening of the border on November 7, 2021, after nearly two years of pandemic restrictions. When Biden, Trump and others vow to “shut down the border,” it's political rhetoric and unlikely to affect U.S.-Mexico ports of entry, said Dara Lind, senior fellow at the American Immigration Council. They use that language to show they are willing to “get tough” on immigration. But, she said, "the rhetoric has policy implications,” Lind said. “The border is a real place and the policies in D.C. have real consequences on the ground.” Slowdowns at the border hurt business and job growth When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott added a layer of border checks as part of his Operation Lone Star crackdown last September, commercial cargo traffic stalled at the border. The line of trucks at one El Paso-Juárez bridge snaked back into Mexico for six miles, snarling traffic for hours. One minute of delay on the border is equivalent to $778,000 lost in the American economy, said Ray Perryman, a Texas economist and chief executive of the Waco-based financial analysis firm Perryman Group. Trucks are seen backed up on Rafael Perez Serna Avenue in Ciudad Juarez on April 13, 2022, as long wait times continue to affect binational commerce in the borderland. “The border is more than a migration transit point,” said Jon Barela, executive director of the El Paso-based Borderplex Alliance, a privately funded regional economic development initiative. Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, and in El Paso, hit record highs in 2023. But El Paso leaders tend to view migration, like many things involving the border, as an issue of logistics management: how to temporarily shelter and orient lawfully released migrants so they can safely move on to their destinations. Despite the jump in migrant encounters, El Paso still ranked in the top five safest large cities in the U.S., according to an analysis of FBI crime data by MoneyGeek.com. "I am constantly frustrated by the perceptions of our region," Barela said, and "by those who parachute into our region for a day or less, take the obligatory photo opp and declare themselves experts on the U.S.-Mexico border when in fact they have no clue of the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship." Tino Ortega's "¡Ay Ay!" mural at The Substation at 145 E. Sunset Road in the Upper Valley. Last year, Mexico became the United States' top trading partner, eclipsing China. The U.S. did $798.8 billion in trade with Mexico – the most with any single nation in a single year, ever, according to Forbes. Texas-Mexico trade alone underpins more than 8 million U.S. jobs, Perryman said. But border rhetoric can lead to unintended consequences. The slowdowns during 2023 "due to inefficiencies" – including Abbott's border checks – led to losses in the border region of an estimated $1.6 billion in gross product and about 16,750 jobs, he said. False impressions put community, border agents at risk Sometimes a dog wanders over the border from Juárez to El Paso. When that happens, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers call Ruby Montana. She runs an online group called Bridge Pups Rescue that places strays with foster or adoptive families. "If it’s a dog-loving agent – and a lot of them are – they will call me and I will go pick up the pup," she said. The onslaught of images of hundreds of migrants and military vehicles falsely portray "that the border is a scary place," she said. That's not the border she knows. The “Take Our Border Back” convoy, touting itself as “God’s Army,” passed through El Paso in January on its way to Eagle Pass, Texas, but didn’t find the promised “invasion.” Last week, the FBI arrested a Tennessee man who was allegedly planning to travel to the Texas-Mexico border as a sniper to stop what he called an "invasion" of migrants. In 2019, a Dallas man posted a racist online diatribe using the same "invasion" language before entering an El Paso Walmart with a high-powered rifle. He received 90 consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty to federal firearms and hate crimes associated with the deaths of 23 people, mostly of Mexican descent. CBP officers and Border Patrol were among the first to respond to the scene. Border Patrol's El Paso Sector has roughly 2,400 agents tasked with enforcing constantly shifting border policies. The bipartisan border bill that failed would have allocated funding to hire more agents and to support their border security mission. Although many agents trace their family roots to Mexico, they often say they don’t go to Mexico for security reasons. But some do. One agent regularly drives to Juarez to get his dog groomed and to visit family. An El Paso taxi driver rattles off the names of CBP officers who call him for a ride to the Juárez airport: They prefer to fly domestic when they vacation in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. Southbound traffic to Mexico clogs Downtown El Paso streets nearly every weekday as border residents commute to Ciudad Juarez. Tens of thousands of border residents crisscross the border for work, school and recreation every day. The border looks different depending on where you're standing From a lookout on the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, it is hard to see where the U.S. ends and Mexico begins. The 30-foot border fence looks like a pencil line. Jesus Rivera, 15, waited with his 11-year-old brother, not pictured, at the Ysleta-Zaragoza Bridge on his way to school in El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in August 2021. Both siblings attend school in the U.S. as U.S. citizens. In March, runners will crisscross that borderline in the annual El Paso-Juárez International 10k. Nicole Antebi grew up footsteps from the Rio Grande in El Paso. The filmmaker has a twin exhibition of her animated film, "100 Partially Obscured Views," at the El Paso Museum of Art and Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez. "Anywhere you go, you buy groceries in El Paso, the checkout person is going to call you 'm'ija,'" she said, using a Mexican expression meaning "my child." "So much of the narrative comes from elsewhere and is projected onto this place in a really narrow and negative way," she said. "It breaks my heart." In 2022, El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, hosted the 5th Run Internacional 10-kilometer race as part of a binational celebration of border life. The race course crossed the international border. Margo, the former El Paso first lady, is frustrated but not shaken by the current political winds. She leads tours to Juárez, taking visitors to the original Franciscan mission that predates the existence of the U.S.-Mexico border by nearly two centuries. She is an unwavering cheerleader for the binational community. "We do our best but we don’t want to see it disrupted," she said. "This is my home and we live on both sides." For more information, visit us at https://www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com/.

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