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.