Coronavirus on the Border

Numbers coming out of Mexico could be misleading


Three hundred fifty-six deaths in Juárez, 437 deaths in the state of Chihuahua. – El Diario, June 12, 2020.  

“There are 1,525 deaths from the virus in Juárez”: Pastor José Antonio Galván. June 9, 2020. He is the founder and director of Visión en Acción, a mental asylum with 120 patients on the west side of Juárez. Both he and his wife are recovering from the coronavirus.  

Who to believe?  

“The situation here in Ciudad Juárez is not good. Many do not wear masks and people hang out together without distance,” said Sister Betty from the Tabor House Ministry in Juárez. 

“There are many precautions,” said Aurora Ramos, citizen of Juárez. 

Who to believe? 

The story is different in Palomas 70 miles to the west. 

“I have not heard of any cases in Palomas,” said Ivonne Romero, the owner of the Pink Store. Juan Rascon from Border Partners agrees. Pat Noble, one of the founders of La Casa de Amor Para Niños, visited Palomas June 12 and adds, “They don’t know of any cases here, but we did not see anyone wearing masks.” 

Recently, I wrote about the failure of Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (better known as AMLO) to take the coronavirus seriously and the even larger problem of a continuing lack of programs for the poor. This has been confirmed by a May 8 front page article in the New York Times. That article focused mainly on Mexico City and indicated that the federal government there had only reported about 700 deaths whereas officials in Mexico City had tabulated more than 2,500. This dramatic under-reporting has led residents to believe that the coronavirus is not a serious threat and that social distancing is not important.

How had this affected those United States-based organizations that do so much to provide aid along the border, particularly Juárez and Palomas?

Missions Ministries has its headquarters in Colorado but has been heavily involved in the colonias on the west edge of Juárez since 1992, building houses and maintaining a medical clinic and two libraries. Susy Pineda with the staff in Mexico reports that “While food, masks, gloves are needed, Missions Ministries is not able to take items across the border at this time.”

“Even those who are sick are fearful of going to the hospital as there was a shortage of medical staff even before the pandemic,” she said.

On an earlier crossing, Pat Noble was able to provide “despensas” for 75 families.

“We bought flour, rice and beans to Mexico,” she said. “[And] took toilet paper, oil, sugar and candy from here. They (the Mexican customs officials) did not stop us at all. They still have the Central Salud tent set up where they ask you who you are and where you are going but they had so many complaints that they only did it one day.” On her most recent crossing, the tent was there, but inactive.

Reporter Angela Kocherga said she has gone through the process entering Juárez.

“The sanitizing ‘modulo’ sprays a fine mist over you and it happens quickly as you walk through the ‘tunnel’ which is hardly long enough to qualify as a tunnel,” she said. “The modulo looks like an inflatable plastic arch. I don’t know how effective it is since it does not seem like enough disinfectant to do much.”

Another reporter, Debbie Nathan, “went through a five-foot tunnel that sprayed me with some kind of mist, and also had my temperature taken by a Mexican official.” Coming back, she asked a Border Patrol agent to help maintain six foot social distancing and said that he screamed at her and told her to get out of line and go back to Mexico.

There is a phone number where you can report this kind of behavior: 915-832-4400.

The director of Siguiendo los Pasos de Jesús (Following the Footsteps of Jesus), Jane Fuller, reports there are no masks and no social distancing in the area on the west edge of Juárez, where her program has built some 500 homes.

Patricia De Dios said most of the factories are closed but that workers are receiving half pay or being fired.

In short, it is a very confused and rapidly changing situation in Mexico. As for those from the United States and Mexico who have programs in Juárez and Palomas, they are dedicated and won’t be deterred. This is a mark of their commitment and I wish them the best.

Morgan Smith is a free-lance writer from Santa Fe who has been documenting conditions on the border for years. He can be reached at