Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.
"I've been crossing the border more than 20 times. But never was it hard like it is right now."
The bearded man in the black T-shirt has the kind of intelligent face that convinces me that someday he will be a real estate mogul, or perhaps a record company executive in L.A. I am shocked when he tells me he is 24. He looks 40.
"I crossed the first time when I was 12," he says, flashing the sort of raffish grin that women love. In his case, five women: He's had three children with three different women in America, he has a girlfriend back home in Guanajuato, and one in Agua Prieta, where he's been stuck working as a baker for the past few months.
"I've been crossing the border more than 20 times. But never was it hard like it is right now," he tells me. He shows me a bloody hand. "I tried to cross last night," he says. "At this point, my life is in both countries."
Terry Moore, a Tucson-based photographer, and I have barged into one of the many casas de huespedes, or low-cost hotels, that have sprung up in Agua Prieta. Illegal immigration and drug smuggling, along with the development of a maquiladora industry, have swelled Agua Prieta's population to an estimated 170,000, almost double what it was a decade ago.
Inside the hotel, a dozen young men say they've tried unsuccessfully to cross the border. They're not going hungry in their hometowns, but if they eat, they cannot buy clothes or do anything else to better their lives. Marriage becomes the extra expense they cannot afford. So they are here.
At first, they all tell us they're giving up and going home, but later my black T-shirted friend confides that they're going to try again tonight. After the formal interview has ended, a young boy who's been listening to our conversation from a doorway runs out and talks to Terry. Terry asks if he's related to the hotel's owner.
The boy looks at him in consternation. "No, no, this is my brother," he tells Terry, pointing to one of the men. "I'm crossing tonight."
He is 11.
Copyright © 2000 HCN and Susan Zakin