South to the Border

Checking on Friends

Walls, Bulls and Shelters


“Where is everyone?” I asked the two young women at the migrant shelter in Deming. The armory was full of neatly arrayed cots, but they were all empty. Other than a few occasional Brazilians, this superbly organized and staffed facility has been abandoned by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

In mid-May, the CBP simply dumped several hundred migrants there leaving their care in the hands of the residents of this small town of about 14,000. The response, however, was been extraordinary. Managed by officials from the city and the fire department as well as numerous volunteers, Deming has provided these migrants with a unique level of care. It’s tragic to hear the President complain about the need for more facilities and to know that the care in the federal facilities is awful when a superb program like Deming’s has been largely abandoned.

The next stop on this monthly trip from Santa Fe to the border was Visión en Acción, a privately-run mental asylum with some 120 patients located about 15 miles south and east of the Santa Teresa crossing.

Visión en Acción had accumulated a huge stack of wood that it intended to package and sell as firewood this winter. It receives almost no government support, must continuously scramble for money, and selling firewood can be quite profitable. Unfortunately, an electrical shortage set this woodpile on fire several nights earlier and the fire raged for hours. Miraculously, none of the mental patients were hurt and none of the buildings damaged.

The Wall

Since the beginning of the surge in migrants seeking asylum, I’ve spent a great deal of time studying the border walls – or lack thereof – particularly in the Anapra-Sunland Park area. It’s a much more nuanced issue than either Democrats or Republicans would have you believe. Sadly, no one is addressing the question of how to control our borders in a way that is both effective and humane. There are some laughs, however.

For example, kids living in Anapra next to the wall love to rush over when people drive by on the Sunland Park side and ask for money to photograph them as they peek through the bars into the U.S. On this occasion, however, the oldest boy in this little group decided to make some extra money and said he’d climb the wall for a dollar. Sure enough, up he went like a monkey. So much for the effectiveness of that huge wall.

The Award

In an earlier article, I wrote about the monthly medical clinic in Juárez put together by the El Paso non-profit, Siguiendo los Pasos de Jesus (SPJ). It’s headed up by El Paso pediatrician, Dr. Carlos Gutierrez who also testified before Congress in Washington in July about the lack of care for migrant children who are being held in federal custody and the fact that he and other El Paso pediatricians had offered their services free of charge and had been rejected.

He was at the clinic in Juárez on this trip and I learned that he has been nominated by the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF) to receive the Hispanic Health Leadership Award at their Awards Gala in Los Angeles on Nov. 21, a fitting award for this doctor who has done so much for his community.

La Nueva Central

This large cafeteria-style Juárez restaurant near the Cathedral was founded in 1958 and is a “barometer” on the mood in downtown Juárez and the sense of security that enables families to be out on the streets and enjoying themselves. On Saturday afternoon, it was absolutely packed with perhaps 20 or 30 people waiting in line for seats. The food is excellent and always a bargain. About $5 for an “agua mineral” and the tacos de pollo. That whole downtown area was teeming with families, a sign of peace in that area of the city.

The Bullfight

Bullfights here are another measure of the sense of security in Juárez. Will people be able to come out in the evening to enjoy themselves without fear of violence? The crowd in the Plaza de Toros Alberto Balderas on Saturday evening seemed to be saying “yes.”

Two of the matadors were popular, experienced and very skillful – Uriel Moreno known as El Zapata is now 45 years old, still athletic and agile and was the star earning two ears on his second bull.

The always enthusiastic Antonio Garcia, known as El Chihuahua had a tough night but did place the banderillas while seated in a plastic chair with the bull charging at him, a feat that seemed suicidal to those of us in the audience.

Most interesting was Juárez native, Gustavo Garcia who we met in this same plaza on Easter Sunday. That afternoon, he was wearing a suit and working the crowd in support of his next bullfight. He even had several men circle the ring with a large banner announcing this bullfight. What made that memorable is that he didn’t have an actual date for the bullfight. But here he was on Aug. 24 looking both fearful and determined. He did end up being awarded one ear which was probably less than he had hoped for. More important, he survived.

Returning to the bridge after the bullfight the famous Kentucky Club on Avenida Juárez was packed, and there were mariachis everywhere. It was a scene of tranquility and enjoyment that the people of Juárez deserve.

Morgan Smith makes monthly trips to the border to document conditions there and assist several humanitarian organizations. He can be reached at