Award-Winning Photojournalist Oscar B. Castillo, who has previously reported for Direct Relief from Venezuela, Colombia, North Macedonia, Poland, and Ukraine, traveled to Ciudad Juarez and El Paso over Christmas and New Year’s to report on the ongoing border crisis. His photo essay and dispatch follow.
In many ways, Ciudad Juarez represents the last of a long list of obstacles in the extreme journey to reach the United States — and through that, to reach a job, the hope of better living conditions, and to let the imagination fly towards the American Dream. This dream seems so close after crossing the Rio Bravo (called the Rio Grande in the U.S.), which is shallow and less risky in this area, clearing a little fence and arriving at a massive wall that divides opportunities, territories and rights. Here it is possible to see, through thick bars, the oft-dreamed ultimate destination.
Ciudad Juarez, which borders El Paso, Texas, has witnessed the arrival of an unprecedented number of migrants, mostly from Latin America, but also from other parts of the world. Complete families, single men, elderly people, and babies take this long and extreme journey as a last resort to escape from living conditions marked by violence, economic crisis, climate change, authoritarian governments, and the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even as this route has been followed for many years, 2022 and early 2023 have seen growing waves of migration with overwhelming effects for cities on both sides of the border.
For many of the migrants who manage to cross into El Paso, conditions are not as dreamed.
In addition to a more militarized border patrolled, in part, by the Texas National Guard, migrants continue to be denied the ability to apply for asylum while in the U.S., though the public health rule that prevented such action, Title 42, which was enacted by President Trump during the pandemic, is slated to be lifted this spring. Texas, along with other states, has also sent buses full of migrants to cities like New York, Washington and Philadelphia. On the specific days, I was there, in contrast to the image many people have of the area as a hot desert, it was extremely cold.
In recent times, some nationalities, like Venezuelans, Haitians, and Salvadorans, have been prevented from entering the country in a regular way, which has left hundreds of people stuck in El Paso and sleeping on the streets in makeshift tents made of paperboard and blankets. This has generated an even deeper crisis inside the state of Texas. Local NGOs, some partly funded by grants from Direct Relief, have been left to care for the basic needs of people living in such conditions.
These nonprofits provide services that enable people to eat three square meals daily, have access to toilets and showers and, maybe most importantly, find themselves under a safe roof. With this, they can finally rest, which is something that, for many of them, between corrupted police, merciless nature, armed groups, and cascading crises, has not happened during the months of their long journey towards the American Dream.
Editor’s Note: Since 2021, Direct Relief has provided organizations in El Paso with more than $680,000 in grants and $1 million in medical aid donations. These organizations include Centro De Salud Familiar La Fe, Centro San Vicente, Opportunity Center for the Homeless, and Project Vida Health Center Clinics.