Two Sides, One World

Palomas, Columbus take economic hits


The economy on the border between Columbus and Palomas, Mexico is being reshaped dramatically this summer because of the coronavirus quarantine and the Trump policy of lengthening the wall between the two countries.

Businesses in Palomas that cater to United States citizens may be most affected by the quarantine, which is enforced on both sides of the border.

Americans crossing the border back to the United States from Palomas, in the interminable lines, see a lighted sign that says "U.S. Citizens Only" above the one booth that's open. That's a misleading sign that even Mexican border personnel get wrong. I was told twice by them that the phrase somehow includes resident aliens even though that phrase is not on the sign.

For some reason most Americans believe that even U.S. citizens won't be able to get back from Mexico, and this is inflicting enormous harm to the "essential businesses" that are protected by quarantine rules on both sides of the border.

Many Americans don't even understand they don't even need a passport for the short trip from the border to Palomas.

Adriana Gonzalez was sitting alone at Fierro Dental Clinic in the middle of the afternoon. She said the clinic is getting only one or two customers per day, where they used to get 10-12 per day, before the Corona Virus.

She claims that in Palomas, "The government isn't giving money to the large businesses or the small ones," as they are in the United States. Down the main street a little way is Lam Dental Clinic, usually empty now for lack of customers. Adriana claims that business there is in a similar state as Fierro's.  The owner of Lam's was not at his office when I visited.

Some other "essential businesses," such as pharmacists, oculists and restaurants arranged by quarantine rules, are open with almost nonexistent clientele.

At the Pete Alvillar Pharmacy, near the border in Palomas, school superintendent and high school teacher Arsenio Morales combines his very scarce work at the store with his work on -line with his students. Palomas schools are not changing their methodology yet.

He stands at his computer working and then waits on me as I buy the Juarez paper El Diario. Then he goes back to his computer and communicates with the 80 students he teaches at three different levels.

Arsenio is very much looking forward to the proposed policy of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who intends to offer college tuition to any student who requests it. Lopez Obrador is being strongly criticized by lots of economists in Mexico, but this policy seems to be one that will have a major effect on Mexico even if it is messy for a while.

The controversy in Columbus, across the border from Palomas, is basically dormant right now, but it involves important issues.

President Trump has been promoting the extension of a border wall that passes through Columbus. For several months the workers have been shutting off the central part of town by rebuilding the roads for their construction project.

There's been local criticism and a lot of fear of the workers' neglect of quarantine rules, but that standard has at least been upgraded somewhat, as workers have started wearing face masks.

Mayor Esekiel Salas is promoting the project because it is good for the economy, as he sees it.

"If it wasn't for the building going on, we would have dried up a long time ago," he said. "We're faring a lot better than a lot of the other communities in this area."

There's been criticism of the project by Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center, in a letter to the Albuquerque Journal on April 5.

"Most of Arizona and a chunk of Texas will be sealed with 30-foot steel bollard walls," he said. "There is an obscure legal authority that has allowed the president to ignore the Endangered Species Act and dozens of other laws."

The New Mexico border is a place to watch as the coronavirus situation unfolds in our area.

Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.