Late Edition -- Immigration Monday
Border Dispatch, Week of October 22, 2007.

Is there anybody alive out there? --Bruce Springsteen


Everything is not all right.

Wait a minute, what is the definition of “illegal”? Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007, the Chicago Tribune reported: “Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chartoff on Monday invoked his power to bypass certain laws to restart construction of a fence on the Arizona-Mexico border.” Bypass certain laws? To restart the fence that keeps out “illegals.” The construction of which was compromised because they hired “illegals” to build sections of it. The same fence that cut off parts of a university in Texas and gave it to Mexico.

Oh, hell. California is burning to the ground. Even sections of the fence. I am watching my old homeland reduced to cinders. If you look at the satellite images, you’ll see that the fires are burning in Mexico, too. California and Baja California make twin plumes of smoke that meld and are indistinguishable from each other. Early reports of the fires stated that “illegals” walking in the fire-zones along the border had been overwhelmed by the flames and burned to death. This story vanished as soon as movie stars were being evacuated from Malibu. CNN and Fox News know a real story when they see it—Tom Hanks leaves his beach house! We might never hear more of this awful scenario—after all, the miracle of Southern California 2007 is that only 1 person died among the 1,000+ houses destroyed. Chalk the burning Mexicans up to another immigration myth that will haunt to far reaches of shadow and conspiracy theory. Coyotes will be back when the cinders cool, and they’ll eat the bones.

I came back from El Paso this weekend. I was on Perpetual Speaking Tour, which has replaced Perpetual Book Tour. I rushed back to overcrowded Chicago. It took Cinderella two hours to get through Sunday night traffic to get me. We were trying to rush to the Bruce Springsteen concert at the United Center. It took almost an hour to get through that obnoxious clot of traffic. And inside, The Boss rocked it like it was 1978. How is it possible that he can make such wild music that feels so good, that even makes you cry, when he’s calling out in his rage and despair? How can he make us feel so good when he’s screaming at the top of his lungs: everything is not all right?


I saw a new chapter of THE DEVIL’S HIGHWY in the El Paso airport. It’s small and friendly. Even the Border Patrol agent on the balcony watching for illegals nods at you and smile a little. I was enjoying the benefits of looking like a gringo. There in my blazer and my book bag. A young Mexican woman was wobbling around in three-inch-heel boots. She wore skin-tight jeans and a tight blue and white striped pullover. Her hair was dyed and curled in what could only have been a Mexican beautician’s idea of an American hair-do.

She was fretting on a throw-away cell phone and sat across from me, obviously unaware that I spoke Spanish. She was calling ahead to Chicago. She was trying to reach “the man.” This man, someone she didn’t know, was to pick her up at O’Hare and deliver her to “the house.” She said, “I am trusting you.” She said, “I am putting myself into your hands.” She had the exact same accent and vocabulary as my friend Negra, who lived in the Tijuana municipal garbage dumps.

She then called her friend Ana and asked Ana to call this man and pose as her sister-in-law, to let him know family was watching. “I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t want to go.”

She called her mother. The number was long enough as she punched it for me to realize she was calling Mexico. “Mami?” she said. “I’m in the airport in El Paso. I am going to Chicago. It’s only a month. The boy there will take me to the house. I will call you when I’m in the house.” She was clearly a Juarez kid, on her way into the purple shadows of illegal America.

She called all her friends. “I’m going. I don’t know. Maybe he will rape me. Maybe he will kill me.”

I wanted to grab her and tell her—Don’t go!

I lost sight of her as we boarded. I looked for her at baggage check, but she never appeared. I felt a dread sinking in my gut—she must have come with no bags at all, just her little purse and her cheap cell plastic phone.

What doom greeted her in Chi-town?


El Paso and Juarez might not be linked by raging fires…yet. Butn they are linked by the Rio Grande and by millennia of shared land. “El Paso” is, of course, the passage to the north—the ancient indigenous trade route that became the Conquest route that became the modern trade route that became the contested border. Sin-city. The old canard goes: “Juarez is the place old whores go to die.” Of course, the people dying there are young women.

Theories abound about the slaughter of women in Juarez. Among them, there is the theory that there is no slaughter of women. The 300, or 700, or more women found mutilated, raped and dumped in the desert can be attributed to regular crime, they say. There are other cities with higher per capita killings of women. Perhaps. But here’s a detail you haven’t heard: the women have appeared in groups of eight lately. Their corpses have the wrong clothes on them. Their clothing has been switched, so the dead twenty year old woman in one part of the city is found wearing the clothes of the dead thirteen year old found on the opposite side of the city. Some of the bodies are now showing signs of having been refrigerated or frozen. Somebody is keeping them in the freezer.

Everything is not all right.

Other theories are baffling. Serial killers, of course. The highest concentration of known child-abusers and sexual deviants in the southwest is concentrating around the mouths of the bridges to Juarez in El Paso’s southern quandrant. Gee, I wonder where those guys are going. If it isn’t serial killers, is it narcos? Is it Satanists? Is it gangs of opportunistic millionaire kids acting out their Uday Hussein rape fantasies? Or organ-harvesting evil-doers running a black market in kidneys and eyeballs? Or street gangs? There is a new idea that the deaths are really carbon copies of the torture and murder in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 80’s—right wing death squads exerting control through the horror of destroying womanhood. Or is it venture capitalists and land-lords? Is that crazy?

Odd note: one of the notorious body-dumps, a field where groups of eight were found, is now a bright new strip-mall. Nobody wanted it. But now it’s making money. I bet they got it cheap.

Here’s another thing you did not know: Sub-Comandante NMarcos and the Zapatistas are in Juarez. They have come north to protest land inequities and injustices in the Lomas de Poleo barrio west of town. Zapatistas on your border. The new Mexican revolution in your face.

I’m happy they’re there—I hope they stop the killings. I hope they find the killers. Is it wrong to hope they kill them?


El Paso is a friendly city. It looks scary. But that, I believe, is part of why El Pasoans love it—it is stark and even harsh. But it rewards small graces with kind rewards: just a little water make a lovely garden. In Segundo Barrio, the birthplace of much of the Mexican Revolution, things are jumping. Teresita Urrea’s house is there, you know. On South Oregon Street. The last place left where she walked and slept and ate and prayed.

Locals have made a kind of shrine to her. Her face is now on a banner on the second story of the rooming house. There is a historical plaque about The Saint of Cabora on the front porch. The plaque has picture of Teresita healing a child.

The border crossing between Juarez and El Paso has been transformed by Homeland Security into the kind of gauntlet Lou Dobbs would appreciate. The old old passage between the twin cities has been slowed to a crawl. It takes an hour to two hours to walk across a small bridge now. People can’t get to work. People can’t get to their families in either direction. Local poets told me there were going to be riots soon. Tourists who had ventuired into Juarez told me the mercados were empty. A shop-keeper told them, “Nobody comes to Juarez now.” And nobody comes from Juarez—El Paso is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and taxes as trade dies.

Several thousand more troops are heading there, to maintain order. Do you think Washington knows Marcos and the Zapatistas are coming?

Do you think they know what we weren’t told—that the 400 maquiladora factories bred by NAFTA, that fled the region and went to China since 2001, have suddenly begun to reappear? For no reason? They are ringing Juarez again. They are attracting new thousands to the city. They are driving up land values.

Maquiladoras, ritual murder, land grabs, immigration slow-downs, rabid industrial development, thousands of new immigrants, militarization, leftists rebels coming from Chiapas, the legendary border fence. What does this mean to you? Do you not care? I think nobody cares because, really, El Paso? Who goes there.

Yet, El Paso and Juarez are the tip of the coming needle. The needle enters where there are fewer pain cells--the nerves are wide apart there. And it’s out of sight. And the cold steel slides on in before you know what pierced you.

So I focus on Teresita’s house. I’m looking for Grace. I’m hoping for a miracle.

Winos still slump in the shade. They jump up and ambulate when they see us coming with cameras.

I am stunned to see that people have left burning candles at her feet. The porch is becoming a small barrio shrine to her.

But across the fence, someone is putting her sisters in freezers.

God said there would not be another flood. God said the next judgment would be by fire. The winds are gusting to 110 miles an hour in California. My family is living on the edge of the evacuation zone. There are black bones out there. It’s all burning down.

Is there anybody alive out there? Tell them. Tell them. Everything is not all right. Somebody, save us. I fall to my knees. I cry: mercy, mercy, mercy….

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