Everything For The American Dream [Photo Essay]


United States

L., a migrant woman with her two kids and her brother, are seen late at night in El Paso while heading towards the bus station to try their chances at reach a safer place. The family (two boys, 3 and 8, their mother and their uncle) were later caught at a checkpoint by police officers and sent back to Mexico with no resources nor any place to stay.

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.

On the Ciudad Juarez side of the wall, a young migrant waits to turn himself in to U.S. authorities at the gates of a Border Patrol post.
Migrant kids play at the border of the Rio Bravo river in Ciudad Juarez while their relatives wait to turn themselves in to U.S. border authorities.
Close to the wall dividing Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and El Paso in United States, a man from the area works selling blankets to migrants spending the night at the gates of border police
Around midnight and at freezing temperatures, migrants from many different nationalities wait at a section of the wall dividing Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and El Paso in the U.S. to turn themselves to border authorities and start the process to regularize their migrant status in the U.S.
An ex-military asylum seeker from Colombia waits on the Ciudad Juarez side of the wall to turn himself to authorities.
While walking along the Rio Bravo river in Ciudad Juarez, migrants from Venezuela say hello and make signs to National Guard officers standing by the wall dividing Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and El Paso in the U.S. Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott ordered the militarization of the border amidst big waves of migrants looking to reach the United States.
In Ciudad Juarez, two migrants help a family cross the Rio Bravo river and get closer to the wall dividing Mexico and the United States. This segment of the river is shallow and represents a less risky crossing point in comparison to other parts of the river that can be dangerous and even lethal.
A young Venezuelan migrant is seen skating at the structure that contains the Rio Bravo near the border. He has been skating all the way through South and Central America as he said it is his main passion.
A migrant child walks close to the wall along the road that border authorities use to patrol the area.
A group of migrants run towards the gates at a post of U.S. border authorities to try to turn themselves in to authorities and start their process of regularization inside the United States.
View of one of the main streets in downtown El Paso in Texas where hundreds of migrants, mostly from Venezuela, are stuck after crossing irregularly to the United States from Mexico. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered checkpoints around the town. He has been a supporter of Title 42, a Covid-era measure implemented by the Trump administration that allows U.S. authorities to quickly expel migrants.
Social Worker Nicole Torres (center), part of the outreach program from the Welcome Center, a shelter in El Paso, distributes clothes and humanitarian aid to migrants stuck in El Paso. Torres also checks for families sleeping in the streets and invites them to visit the shelter and stay there in a safer environment with access to showers, food, a roof, and medical attention.
B., 2, a migrant kid, plays at the entrance of the shelter while his parents register with Nicole Torres at the Welcome Center, a shelter in El Paso The young family had been sleeping in the streets of El Paso for several nights before Torres reached them and invited them to stay in the shelter.
At the Welcome Center in El Paso, Texas a local Pastor visiting the center with a group of volunteers, preaches for the safe continuation on the journey of a Venezuelan migrant.
A young Venezuelan migrant girl laughs on the floor while playing with a group of kids and volunteers visiting the Welcome Center in El Paso.
A young Venezuelan girl hides her face and laughs while studying English and pronouncing some new words at the Welcome Center, a shelter in El Paso. Contrary to most migrants, her parents decided to stay in El Paso in order to get the kids enrolled in school as soon as possible.
A young migrant girl plays with her little brother at the Welcome Center, a shelter in El Paso.
At the Welcome Center, a shelter giving basic attention to migrants in El Paso, a migrant woman is visited and checked by a paramedic worker after saying she has been feeling unwell in recent days.
A young migrant girl from Venezuela is seen after receiving some basic aid including blankets, hygiene products, fruits, and snacks from aid workers who are part of a coalition of local NGOs including the Opportunity Center, the Welcome Center and Centro San Vicente.
Police officers walk around an area of El Paso where migrants have been camping for days after not being allowed to continue their journey farther into the U.S. Later that day, the police raided the area, detaining some migrants and evicting members of the improvised camp.
L. a young Venezuelan migrant woman and mother of two young kids spends some time alone. She said she was nervous about a bus she would be taking with her family to try to go out of Texas and towards a place more friendly towards migrants.
Migrants sleep in the street in downtown El Paso, sometimes under the rain and in freezing temperatures. They are unable to continue their journey inside the U.S. due to the implementation of a policy known as Title 42, a Trump and Covid-era measure that allow authorities to quickly expel migrants out of the U.S. and preventing them from applying for asylum or starting other processes to regularize their presence in the United States.
Kailanys, a newborn girl, is held in her mother’s hands at the Welcome Center in El Paso, Texas. Kailanys was born inside the Border Police station in El Paso just a few minutes after her mother turned herself to border authorities. The family has been at the Welcome Center, where the baby has received medical care, and her birth certificate.
Z. a migrant from Guatemala cries as midnight approaches on New Year’s Eve. Z said this was her first time not spending NYE with her sons and her mother and that she really missed them, but understood the sacrifice she needed to make to be able to help them at home.
L., a migrant woman with her two kids and her brother, are seen late at night in El Paso while heading towards the bus station to try their chances at reach a safer place. The family (two boys, 3 and 8, their mother and their uncle) were later caught at a checkpoint by police officers and sent back to Mexico with no resources nor any place to stay.

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.

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