Border Town Is Bustling


LAS CHEPAS, Mexico ? Six months ago, officials bulldozed a third of the houses in this border village, hoping to shut down a staging ground for illegal migrants. But residents say the widely publicized action instead lured more people to Las Chepas.
?They made us famous and the migrant flow got worse,? said Ramon Guzman, who lets people sit on his patio until nightfall, when they set out for the border.

At least 2,270 migrants passed through Las Chepas in February, compared to 1,180 in January, according to Grupo Beta, a government-sponsored group that tries to discourage people from crossing and aids those stranded in the desert.

About 60 adobe and cinderblock houses remain on the gravel streets of Las Chepas, just across the border from U.S. onion and pumpkin farms. Dogs and chickens roam among piles of empty water bottles and tuna cans discarded by passing migrants.

The village of about 100 people has no public schools, no local government, no police station ? and no children. But that doesn’t mean it’s not bustling.

Busloads of men and women carrying backpacks with a change of clothing and a few personal items arrive here daily from the town of Palomas. There, migrants meet their smugglers and buy comfortable shoes and warm clothing at street stands to prepare for the trek from Las Chepas.

The four grocery stores in Las Chepas are well-stocked with water jugs and canned food.

David Carvajal earns his living from the transients, employing at least five men to drive migrants and their smugglers from Palomas to an area just past Las Chepas. He charges $10 for the trip.

The groups wait until dark to walk across the border. Once over, they must walk about 40 miles, using various routes through the desert to reach U.S. Interstate 10, where they can hitch a ride to major U.S. cities.

?Here things have not slowed down. They can raze the whole village, but as long as we’re on the border, they will keep coming,? said Carvajal, who has put up as many as 300 migrants in bunk beds and old mattresses scattered about in a large room.

He says migrants can stay for free but he sells hamburgers and french fries for $3.50 and instant noodle soup for about $1 in a makeshift restaurant.

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