The only thing separating El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, is a canal that a child could wade across. That, plus a gross disparity in job availability, wages, and quality of life. Not to mention official U.S. border policies designed to keep undocumented guest workers out, even while unofficial economic policies all but encourage American farms, restaurants, and hotels to hold consumer prices down by hiring undocumented laborers for the roughest, most menial work.
And so every year perhaps up to 4,000 people - no one is sure exactly how many - wade north across the canal when they think the Border Patrol isnt looking, or wedge themselves into the nooks of cars or vans crossing one of the congested bridges linking the cities across the Rio Grande, or pay coyotes and polleros - people-smugglers, the latter term meaning "chicken wranglers" - to sneak them across by some other means. Today, 8 to 12 million undocumented immigrants are in the United States, many of them living in hiding and in poverty.
Yet they neednt live without a home. Since the late 1970s, El Pasos Annunciation House has opened its doors to immigrants and refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border. The 20-volunteer organization includes a residence for immigrants trying to get on their feet, as well as separate facilities for those seeking political asylum and for women and children, and a building in a Juárez squatters neighborhood that provides support and space for community-building efforts. Sometimes the Border Patrol looks the other way; sometimes it arrests Annunciation House volunteers. In early 2003, an agent shot and killed a 19-year-old guest who was running away with a pipe in his hand.