Blood, Sweat and Knobby Knees by Peg Bowden

Peg Bowden is a retired nurse living in southern Arizona on a ranch near the border. She volunteers each week with the Green Valley Samaritans at an aid station known as  El  Comedor in Nogales, Sonora. The aid station/soup kitchen is a project of the Kino Border Initiative, directed by a binational Jesuit ministry.

*******************************************************************************************************It It is 11 a.m. and 103 degrees outside in Nogales, Sonora. An ancient fan wobbles and clickety-clacks from the ceiling of el comedor, the aid station where I volunteer each week. The fan tries to make a dent in the intense heat and humidity of this monsoon morning. The legendary dry heat of southern Arizona is gone; the air feels like steam.

I am on my bony knees on a concrete floor gently placing the blistered, bleeding feet of my migrant friend into a plastic basin of cool water. He rolls up his jeans and gingerly submerges his feet. Caked dirt and blood cloud the water. Sweat drips from my nose. My back is killing me. Wobbling back and forth on the unforgiving floor, I wonder what in the hell I am doing here. My friend winces as I gently take some forceps and remove the dead skin and small pebbles embedded in his feet.

He is heading to Bakersfield and a job he has held for ten years in a restaurant where he claims to make the best chile rellenos in California. I believe him. Speaking perfect English, he tells me that he has lived in Bakersfield for 20 years. He decided to return to Guadalajara to see his grandmother. He ended up burying her, and is grateful for the time he had with her. With no memory of his grandmother as a young boy, he wanted to meet her before she died. Attempting to cross the border and head back to Bakersfield, he was picked up in the desert two days ago. Deported to Nogales, he ended up at here at el comedor.

I am a retired nurse, a grandmother, and a volunteer at this aid station. Never in my nursing days have I had this sort of experience. It is an act of pain. It is an act of love. I feel like I am a character in the Bible washing the feet of a weary pilgrim. The intimacy is profound and unsettling. There are no charts and paperwork and the slick high-tech machinery of the American health care system. Just a wounded man, a basin of water, and a retired nurse diving into the drama of connecting as best we can. It is all hands-on.

We are both self-conscious and bumble through this together. He wipes his eyes as I pick away at his chewed-up feet. I examine his toes and decide how to best treat the open sores and broken blisters. I am all business and try to put on my nurse face.

We talk about his children. I talk about my grandchildren. He pulls a crumpled zip-lock bag out of his jeans pocket and spreads the wrinkled photos on the table. Two adorable little munchkins in school uniforms are smiling in front of a bus stop. He tells me he must get home to them soon. They need their dad. His wife needs the money from his job at the restaurant.

I tell him he cannot walk for several days. If your feet are abscessed and infected, you don’t migrate. He is staring at the photos; he doesn’t hear a word I say. I find him some over-sized slippers to wear over his bandaged feet. He tells me to look him up if I ever come through Bakersfield. He crosses himself and hobbles out the door.

I never saw him again.




Violent Incidents Today In Juarez (June 23)

A traffic policeman was killed in Juarez late this afternoon in what appeared to be a hit and run incident. There has not yet been an official report on the incidents.

Asesinan A Agente De Tránsito En La Talamás Camandari (El Diario)

Below, three El Diario reporters were attacked in the city center while on the job. When first attacked by three guys, they were leaving the area and took a photo with a cell phone. At that point, one of the attackers called and apparently asked permission to beat them up and they were then set upon by about 11 men. -Molly

Agreden A Reporteros De El Diario En La Zona Centro (El Diario)

Dramatic Surge in the Arrival of Unaccompanied Children Has Deep Roots and No Simple Solutions

This is the single best explanation of the complex issues involved with the increase in unaccompanied minor children in migration. It includes data and a discussion of push and pull factors and the convergence of factors relating to the current situation. The explanation of the differing treatment of Mexican vs. Central American minors is the best I have seen, as is the explanation of the US laws pertaining to these groups. I really encourage everyone to read it: 

Also below is a brief report from Colorlines:


Immigration Enforcement “Surge”…Report From San Antonio (June 20)

Bill Conroy reports from the new detention facilities at Lackland military base in San Antonio… After this article was posted today, the major news wires report on a new policy statement from the Obama administration.  I don’t think I am being pessimistic to say that the administration’s response is as bad as it gets… (article posted below)

More detention facilities for children and families… how can anyone see this as other than cruel and unusual punishment? The vast majority of these people are refugees fleeing life-threatening conditions…they are guilty of no crime other than entering the US without documents…Many of these prisons are operated by private companies which profit by detaining more people for longer periods of time…all paid for by US taxpayers…

More immigration judges, asylum officers and government attorneys…this means that more asylum cases will be denied and people will be funneled more quickly through the courts and deported.  Recently (at least in El Paso) it seems that the government has been offering to ADMINISTRATIVELY CLOSE cases, rather than go through the full hearing process. I know of several cases where the asylum hearing is completed and the government still offers to close the case. The judge does not rule. The government allows the asylum seekers to stay in the country for an indefinite period. The government reserves the right to reopen the case at any time, thus leaving the asylum seekers in a vulnerable position–subject to renewed deportation proceedings in the future. But, considering that in many jurisdictions (certainly here in El Paso) more than 90 percent of asylum cases are denied, the administrative closures are a better outcome for many people who have fled Mexico and other countries and fear death or persecution if returned.
Increased security measures and $161 million from the US (taxpayer money) to “fight crime” in Central America…As noted by many of us who have watched the results of such aid in Mexico recently, it is clear that the money, weapons and other military equipment, training and funding result in increasing levels of violence. As noted by Conroy, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are already some of the most violent places on the planet:

Some critics of current U.S. immigration policy argue that it is the militarized nature of the nation’s war on drugs that is actually at the heart of the current refugee crisis along the US/Mexican border.

“U.S. security policy in Mexico and Central America, focused on militarized counter-narcotics efforts known as the war on drugs, has had severely negative effects on the region,” states a recent report by the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy. “… The report finds that current drug-war policy has dramatically increased the transfer of arms, equipment and military/police training to the region. Concurrently, we find that violence in the region has exploded.”

Immigrant Surge Sheds Light on Dangers of Broken Policy

Sylvia Longmire is a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, where she specialized in counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection analysis. After being medically retired in 2005,  Longmire worked for four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Threat Assessment Center, providing daily situational awareness to senior state government officials on southwest border violence and Mexico’s drug war. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and she is an award-winning columnist for Homeland Security Today magazine and contributing editor for Breitbart Texas.  Longmire was a guest expert on The History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” and has consulted for the producers of National Geographic Channel’s Border Wars and Drugs, Inc. series.  Her first book, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and she has written for numerous peer-reviewed journals and online publications. Her newest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer was published in April 2014. For more, check out her website.


On the morning of June 18, 2014, roughly two dozen reporters gathered outside a Nogales warehouse and waited to be escorted inside by Border Patrol agents. Many were anxious; it was the first time members of the media would be allowed to witness firsthand the hundreds of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) being detained by the agency after being apprehended in south Texas.

Since October 2013, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, ranging in age from infant to 17 years old, in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. The vast majority of these children are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and they are all anxious to be reunited with family members in the United States. For some of them, the journey has been incredibly difficult—paying coyotes thousands of dollars in smuggling fees, eating and sleeping little, and navigating the gang- and cartel-infested territories in eastern Mexico. For some, the goal is to cross the border undetected and reach various destinations across the country.

But others are traveling right to the border and turning themselves in to agents under the impression—fueled by rumors at home—that they will soon be released. In many cases, they’re right.

Undocumented immigrants from Central America get treated differently by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because it’s logistically more difficult to repatriate them. Also, UACs from Central America get treated differently than adults. By law, they have to be processed and handed over to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which will try to reunite them with a family member or legal in the US as quickly as possible. Generally, the legal status of the person a UAC is released to does not impact the transfer of the child. UACs without a family member in the US get placed into the ORR’s network of shelters and group homes—essentially foster care—while they go through removal proceedings.

The reporters went into that Nogales warehouse hoping to get some answers about what President Obama and others have termed a “humanitarian crisis” on the border. For two weeks, they have been seeing photos—many of them leaked by Border Patrol agents—of the crowded conditions inside, and the experience was jarring for many. Several reporters expressed their thoughts on their Twitter feeds, describing the minors’ moods as ranging from bored to sad to outright distraught. UACs are only supposed to be detained for a maximum of 72 hours before being transferred to ORR custody, but the huge influx of minors in such a short period of time have made it logistically impossible for that to happen.

Given that this is a crisis that will not be ending or get resolved soon, two questions persist: What caused this huge influx, and how can it be controlled? Both questions are naturally fraught with political complications. Many on the right point the finger at lax enforcement of immigration policies by the Obama administration and a failure to secure the border. Many on the left fully blame the deteriorating security and economic conditions in Central America, which have led to the rise in control of many parts of those countries by gangs and drug cartels.

The truth is not always that simple, and in this case, it’s a combination of both of those factors—a sort of push-pull effect. Violence and a lack of economic and educational opportunities drive young people out of Central America by the thousands. But word has gotten around the region—in some cases, through television announcements—that many UACs, and even adults, are being released after processing and just being told to show up for their immigration hearing. Most will not. In addition, those with family members already in the US will be provided with bus fare to be reunited with them anywhere in the country. To say that word of mouth about these actions don’t have a “pull” effect is naïve and ignorant of the power rumors can have in Central America.

As far as controlling the push and pull factors, the latter is much easier than the former. Even though the US government has been providing counterdrug and economic development assistance to Central America for some time, security has not improved and economic development can be difficult to measure. One also has to add in the fact that US drug demand, which fuels the activities of cartels and the gangs they employ, is not diminishing, and corruption within governments and police forces in these countries is rampant.

The only thing left is to find a way to manage the pull factor—the controversial issue known as comprehensive immigration reform. The increase in border enforcement measures that the US government can reasonably sustain will be insufficient to stop determined migrants fleeing violence and poverty, as difficult a pill that may be for some to swallow. Changing immigration laws in a way that doesn’t grant automatic amnesty, but preserves the integrity of our justice system, is entirely possible. However, US politicians lack the political will to reach some sort of compromise that allows non-criminal “economic migrants” to contribute to the US economy and travel freely—and safely—between their home country and the US.

There is no simple answer, but there is also not one single acceptable answer. There is a halfway point between granting full amnesty to all undocumented immigrants and walling off the border while deporting every single one. A meaningful change at the legislative level and a very visible change at the border enforcement level will help spread an accurate message to desperate Central Americans—and the smugglers who exploit them—that although the US border isn’t open for business, a new way of following practical and effective rules is the best way to reach the safety of the United States.



Mexico Second Most Unequal Income Distribution In The OECD…

Mexico has the second most unequal income distribution in the 34 countries in the OECD–generally considered the most developed countries in the world. But, it is less unequal than Chile. And the US is #4 on the list. The measurement is the GINI Co-efficient. Below this Proceso article is an article from last month in USA Today with more explanation. My initial reaction after reading this: income inequality is only part of the explanation for the situation of extreme violence in Mexico. Mexico tied with Argentina as the most corrupt countries in Latin America according to another ranking: Transparency International,

The reports show a trend toward growing inequality in the world most developed countries. -molly (Proceso) (USA Today)

31 Bodies Found On Ranch At Tres Valles, Veracruz State

Below are brief accounts of the mass graves discovered at a ranch near the town of Tres Valles in Veracruz. At least 31 bodies have now been exhumed from shallow pits. The best story is this first one.

El Rancho Del Horror

I’m not able to include the entire article, nor can I print it and do a proper translation, but it is worth going to the link to see the photographs… REFORMA reported earlier today that 8 of the 31 bodies had been identified.

The property known as El Diamante is reported to belong to Fernando Cano Cano, mayor of the municipality of Tres Valles.

Here are a few excerpts:

“The odor in the place is penetrating. Green flies buzz around the rotten carrion and enjoy themselves among the worms. There are 13 holes and from each one two or three bodies were exhumed. It has not been long since the forensic experts left after working like never before. They had to get help from Xalapa and Veracruz. ”

“‘We came here because we heard about a lot of dead bodies found here and back in our neighborhood there are about 4 boys who disappeared. A truck came and blocked off the street and then took them away,’ said a woman who was there with others and they seemed not to notice the nauseating odor nor the heat. They are wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers or other relatives of disappeared persons–the grief-stricken of Cosamaloapan and nearby towns…like pus from an infected wound… they are desperate. ‘Sometimes you just want to find them already so them you can rest…that they would just tell you they are dead,’ said one of the women whose daughter, Wendy Cruz, has been missing since May.”

The article describes the scene at the ranch and there are numerous photos at the link. There were several statues and candles devoted to Santa Muerte, as well as black candles, Los Siete Potencias and other objects considered evil… The place is described in some detail–leftover food, human waste, dirty mattresses and clothing… Apparently it was a place where people were kept for some time before being killed and buried. Some of the bodies were decapitated and many had hands and feet cut off.

It also notes that in most of the press accounts, it is described as “an abandoned ranch” but that the buildings and land looked to be in good condition. It was confirmed that the property was owned by the PRI mayor of the nearby municipal seat of Tres Valles and that no one could explain how a group of killers were living there.

AND “24 men and 7 women were murdered in this place that is less than 2 kilometers from the police headquarters in the town of Tres Valles. How is it possible that so many people were massacred so close to the police?”

Mass grave containing 28 bodies discovered in eastern Mexico  (The Guardian)


Border Patrol Helped Smuggle Weapons To El Chapo…Caro Quintero Amparo Denied…El Universal

Today on the front page of El Universal, the declaration of a protected witness in the federal (PGR) case against El Chapo Guzman says that the US Border Patrol escorted trucks of weapons to the border, abandoned the vehicles and assisted members of the Sinaloa Cartel who then took the guns into Mexico. The declarations come from documents in the case as the witness, Javier Sandoval Interial, was assassinated in Mexico City in 2012. The details are pretty clear below in a google translation

Also, it is reported today in El Universal that a judge has denied the “amparo” against extradition for Caro Quintero. That story is also posted below.

Patrulla Fronteriza Apoyó A “El Chapo” (El Universal)

(Click here for Google translation)

Niegan Amparo Al Narcotraficante Caro Quintero (El Universal)

DHS Forms Interagency Group…Deportations: Bush v. Obama…

It is pretty pitiful for Goodlatte and his committee and the right wing media point to ““Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement policies…” Ignoring the more than 2 million deported under the current administration… Note the article from The NEW REPUBLIC posted below comparing the numbers of people returned/removed/deported in the Bush and Obama administrations:

But, do any of these numbers mention the fact that in general, deportations have gone down because the overall numbers of people coming into the country, especially from Mexico, have gone down since the high point in the early-2000s, mainly due to the recession in the US economy. The New Republic article (and the general focus on comparing administrations) is meaningless without considering the numbers of people actually coming or not coming.

In terms of the increase in people coming from Central America, those numbers will always be smaller than the numbers coming from Mexico–the countries are much smaller:

Guatemala 15 million
Honduras 8 million
El Salvador 6.5 million…(also despite its small size, El Salvador is by far the most densely populated country in the region with more than 300 people per square mile)
Compare to Mexico at 123 million…(with population density of about 60 per square mile)

The journey is much more difficult, expensive and dangerous from Central America. Amnesty International has estimated that as many as 70,000 Central American immigrants have disappeared while traveling through Mexico in recent years.

Considering how the numbers of people, including children, are coming now from Central America, it seems clear that the conditions in those places are getting so desperate that the choice to leave becomes worth the risks. -molly

Saving Marta by Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith lives in Santa Fe and travels to the border every month to photograph, write about and assist humanitarian programs like Vision in Action, Pastor Galván’s asylum.  Vision in Action is a private mental hospital that was founded by Jose Antonio Galvan about 18 years ago. He is a former addict who was deported from the US and then lived on the streets of Juarez until he became clean and decided to dedicate himself to helping the mentally ill. Almost all of his funds come from donations.  Smith can be reached at


Saving Marta


L-R: Elia, Marta and Leticia. Photo by Morgan Smith

L-R: Elia, Marta and Leticia. Photo by Morgan Smith


It’s a blazing hot July Sunday – 103 degrees – and I’m standing in the desert outside of Pastor José Antonio Galván’s mental asylum west of Juárez. Eight municipal police officers have arrived, most of them carrying automatic weapons. Now two of them pull a woman out of one of their cars. She is wearing only filthy underwear. Her hair is matted. This is Marta.

Earlier the police had called Pastor Galván to say that they were going to place this woman with him. She had been living on the streets of Juárez and no other facility would take her.

Fortunately, Sunday is when Dr. Vicente Pantoja, Galván’s consulting psychiatrist visits so he is able to assist. Nonetheless, when the police tell you to take someone, you do it. There’s no negotiation. As for Pantoja, he is one of only eleven psychiatrists in Juárez, a city of about 1.5 million.

Earlier, Pantoja talked about the differences between our mental health system with its rigid rules about things like the interchange between staff and patients and the Mexican system with its heavy reliance on simple human contact. I see this when Pantoja arrives and the patients rush over to hug him just as they do with Pastor Galván. I see this when they comfort each other. “Es como una familia aqui,” Pantoja says.

Several patients take Marta into the facility and soon a new Marta appears. She has been bathed by several of the women patients, wears a clean blue smock with little fish on it and her filthy, matted hair has been shaved. A male patient named Benito is gently trimming her long, cracked, dangerous looking fingernails. When he points to her broken, torn toenails, however, she shrieks and runs across the courtyard to a cement bench in the shade.

“Let her calm down.” Galván says. With her shaved head, wide shoulders and thick tattooed arms, she looks like a wild animal.

Finally a tiny patient named Elia approaches, sits next to her and puts her hand on her shoulder. Elia has a speech defect; the only word I can understand is “foto” because she likes to be photographed. Nonetheless, she has a sense of when other patients need consoling. Her older sister, Leticia – smaller and even more incoherent – joins her.

They lean towards Marta who has covered her face with her hand. We can see how well trimmed her fingernails are now but we can’t see her expression. We watch in silence as the minutes tick by. Is she about to explode? She is big enough to hurt both Elia and Leticia.

Finally her hand comes down and we can see her face. She is smiling. Maybe now she’s part of the family. This is what Pantoja was talking about. This is the environment that Galván has created, one of caring and affection, an environment of dignity.


About 6 weeks later, a patient named Blanca kisses Marta whose hair has partially grown out.  Photo by Morgan Smith

About 6 weeks later, a patient named Blanca kisses Marta whose hair has partially grown out. Photo by Morgan Smith