Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jun 2010
Source: El Paso Times (TX)
Copyright: 2010 El Paso Times
Author: Marty Schladen


EL PASO -- At a time of extreme focus on the U.S.-Mexico border, one 
might think it would be difficult to cross the Rio Grande into El 
Paso illegally.

The presence of U.S. Border Patrol agents, a barrier fence and 
high-tech security are all intended to make it more difficult to 
cross the border.

But Fernando Campos and others on both sides of the border know better.

Campos lives at the foot of Chihuahua Street, just a few hundred 
yards from where a U.S. Border Patrol agent on Monday shot a Mexican 
teenager who had just run back south of the border.

Campos, 76, heard the first shot from his front porch before going inside.

The youths who were confronted by Border Patrol agents most likely 
were headed for the fence at the end of Campos' street.

"Three days before the shooting, I saw three kids jump over that 
fence like rabbits," Campos said. He added that border patrol agents 
came a few minutes later, but too late to catch them. "Every day it's 
the same thing. After a while, you say, 'I hope you make it.' "

As he sat with a copy of Vanity Fair in front of his tidy cottage 
with its well-kept yard, Campos looked out on hundreds walking along 
the west side of the Paso del Norte Bridge, crossing into Mexico. 
Border Patrol helicopters buzzed constantly overhead.

"You can see the coyotes up on the bridge, directing people down 
below," Campos said of those who help people cross illegally into the 
United States.

The physical obstacles to crossing aren't as great as you might 
think. For one thing, the steel border fence erected during the Bush 
administration doesn't extend to the two Downtown bridges.

There's a fence, a rail yard, another fence, a concrete canal that on 
Wednesday was swollen with water, yet another fence, then a muddy 
riverbed that lies half in Mexico. Campos said the coyotes have cut 
holes in the fences that for some reason don't seem to get fixed.

For Carlos Gutierrez, 67, the biggest obstacle to making the crossing 
into Mexico on Wednesday was the heat. He lugged two bags of 
groceries for his girlfriend. He stopped frequently to take a breather.

As he looked at the base of the railroad bridge where the shooting 
took place, with a ball cap saying "Cock Fight" on his head, 
Gutierrez said he crosses into Mexico two or three times a week. 
There may be illegal crossings, but Gutierrez said he's seen few 
confrontations involving Border Patrol.

 From what he's heard about Monday's incident, he thinks the shooting 
was excessive.

"Shooting at somebody throwing rocks is too much," he said.

Despite the Mexican government's outrage at the shooting, disapproval 
on the Juarez side of the bridge seems mild.

"There was no need to shoot," said Benjamin Garcia as he sat in  the 
shade of an awning in the 104-degree heat in Juarez. But he said 
there isn't much public outrage.

In his block, expressionless soldiers stood with machine guns amid 
the pharmacies, a dentist's office, liquor store, a sports book and 
one of the saddest-looking dogs ever. The soldiers are there to 
protect pedestrians from a drug war that's claimed more than 5,300 
lives in the city since 2008.

That war seems a lot more important to people in Juarez than Monday's shooting.

"I never go down to the bridge," pharmacist Noel Vazquez said, 
seeming eager not to talk to a reporter.

Jose de Jesus Meza Lozano, a civil engineer, said he'd heard about 
the shooting. But as he offered a visitor water in an office he 
shares with his father, he said he has more pressing concerns.

"Every day, I'm really scared to think what's going to happen the 
next day," he said.

Because of the drug war, the Juarez economy has slowed to a crawl, 
squeezing off revenue for public-works projects like the ones Lozano 
designs. So feeding his family and keeping it alive are his concerns.

But less than a mile away in the U.S., it seems that Mexico's 
violence has to involve Americans to get much attention.

The last time Campos saw a reporter was in March, when gunman killed 
an employee of the U.S. Consulate and her husband near the Mexican 
foot of the bridge. For two days, CNN parked a satellite truck right 
where Campos has been watching people jump the fence for all these years.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart