Border Town Exemplifies Illegal-Entry Crisis

If it were up to Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, this tiny village, known more commonly as Las Chepas, would be bulldozed to the ground.

In the last three years, authorities on both sides said, this parched stretch of the United States-Mexico border - where summer temperatures soar to 110 degrees and, until recently, Border Patrol agents have been relatively scarce - has become one of the busiest gateways for illegal migration to the United States. Detentions of migrants here have jumped to more than 41,000 this year, from 23,000 all of last year.

Most of the people on the north side of the border view the widening flow of immigrants with disdain, saying the border-crossers trample and litter the alfalfa and vegetable fields. In response to their pleas for help, Governor Richardson declared a state of emergency and asked Mexican authorities to knock Las Chepas down.

Almost no one is left is living on the south side of the border to object. Most of the people of Las Chepas moved north in the mid-1980’s when the United States offered an amnesty for Mexicans who had been working on the American side of the border. The houses here have been empty so long they have begun falling down anyway.

But the 100 or so people who remain say that bulldozing Las Chepas will not change the forces of migration.

‘If they don’t cross here, they’ll find somewhere else to cross,’ said Francisco Molina, who had turned his house into a kind of immigrant rest stop. ‘But they are not going to stop.’

As the sun began to set, buses of migrants began pulling in to Las Chepas. The travelers filed off quickly, bought ham sandwiches from Mr. Molina and then sat behind a mud brick wall, out of the sight of the United States Border Patrol, until dark.

There were nearly 300 by nightfall. They were afraid to talk much, and none of those interviewed gave their names. Mostly they answered in half sentences, and dodged painful questions about the families they had left behind with crude jokes about the American women they looked forward to marrying so they could become citizens.

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