By Patricia Giovine
EL PASO, Texas – A growing number of Mexicans who live near the border with the United States are seeking to transfer their residence to El Paso to flee the danger of kidnappings, extortion and executions that is part of daily existence just across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez.
“We’re moving to live in El Paso after they kidnapped us and attacked our own house in Ciudad Juarez,” Gabriela – a Mexican shop-owner who did not want to give her last name because her family had been the victims of extortion on many occasions – told Efe.
“I know that I’m taking a risk that they’ll take away the local crossing visa if they discover that I’m living in U.S. territory, but at least here I can sleep at night,” she said.
Many of these “new refugees” are making use of their laser visas – or border crossing visas – to come to the United States to live.
The document authorizes the bearer, generally Mexicans who live along the border, to remain as visitors in U.S. territory for no more than 30 consecutive days and no more than 25 miles from the border in Texas, New Mexico and California, though up to 75 miles in Arizona.
Gabriela said that several months ago in Juarez, two attackers accosted her at gunpoint when she opened the garage of her house to take her two daughters to school.
The criminals, who wore masks, kept the family tied up for several hours inside their house while they beat her husband, searched the place and robbed them of their belongings.
“We thought they were going to kill us before leaving and we still feel the terror of that day,” said Gabriela, who added that she had received telephone calls in which the callers demanded money in exchange for “protecting (your family members) and your business.”
She said that one day after the assault they closed up their house in Ciudad Juarez and moved to El Paso into the house of a relative, but later they decided to rent an apartment, and they crossed the border daily to run their business in Mexico.
“After the extortion attempts, we decided to manage the business from El Paso, and perhaps the next step will be to close it because although we have all our hopes in it, life is more important, and in Ciudad Juarez we’re afraid for our lives,” she said.
There have already been more than 2,000 murders at the hands of organized crime in Juarez so far this year.
Many businesses have had to close because the owners have been extorted, while other establishments have been burned when their owners refused to pay “the quota,” and the number of kidnappings continues to rise.
Stories like Gabriela’s are a daily occurrence in El Paso, and although there are no official statistics about the increase in the numbers of Mexicans who have moved to the city, representatives of the real estate sector say that this year the purchases of houses for cash by Mexicans has increased.
“The recession in home sales in El Paso has not been so serious, thanks in part to the people who are seeking to leave Ciudad Juarez,” the director of the Greater El Paso Association of Realtors, Suzy Shewmaker-Hicks, told Efe.
rding to immigration lawyer Carlos Spector, those Mexicans who are settling in Juarez are applying for permanent residence or even political asylum in the United States.
“But there are those who don’t have the means to do it, like sufficient funds to open a business, or who don’t have direct relatives who are (U.S.) citizens, and they are risking their visas,” he said.
Cindy Ramos-Davidson, the president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in El Paso, said that her staffers have received a large number of requests from Juarez businesspeople who are seeking to establish themselves in El Paso.
During the 12 months ending July 31, more than 200 Mexican companies opened in the city, which represents an increase of 40 percent compared with the same period last year, she said.
“It’s the largest migration of wealthy Mexican nationals (to El Paso) since the Mexican Revolution,” Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso city councilman, said recently. EFE