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The Complexity of the U.S. Border Crisis, in 7 Photos

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A migrant trail near Nogales, Ariz. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

NOGALES, Ariz. — Didn’t get to the border during your August recess to do research for your boss? We have you covered.

In the days before they last left town, the House rallied to pass an appropriations bill aiming to curtail the influx of child migrants — legislation that’s going to hit a wall in the Senate whether or not the president takes any executive action.

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CQ Roll Call toured the southern border with Arizona Democrat Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. and the congressman’s staff on Aug. 8. Their goal? Showcasing the difficult situation in person.

“There are so many layers to the border,” Grijalva said from the backseat of a 4×4 truck as it climbed over the desert mountains en route to a migrant trail crossroads. “There are so many layers to immigration. It’s a very complex issue.”

These seven photos illustrate why legislating the border has become increasingly difficult.

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Fife points to the path. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Terrain

About 17 miles south of Green Valley, a staunch Republican retiree community, there’s a vehicle access point off Chavez Siding Road. A bumpy, single lane ventures into the desert mountains, eventually arriving at this crossroads of migrant trails.

Migrants journey 60 miles of this tough terrain — a trip that often starts around Sasabe, Sonora. It can take up to three days, and they need to carry three gallons of water to be able to drink a gallon per day. If it takes longer, they could die of thirst.

The exact paths are difficult to track when the migrants wear carpet shoes to cover their tracks. Mexican stores south of the border sell them for about $15.

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A Gila monster. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Conditions

Even in the mid-morning, it’s too hot for the rattlesnakes to come out of their holes.

But this guy showed up in the 110-degree dry heat.

Behold a rare sighting of a Gila Monster, a venomous lizard native to the Southwest. Once it bites, it doesn’t let go, chewing to increase the flow of poison from its jaw to the victim.

As Roll Call’s Bill Clark captured this shot, Grijalva put his forearm on Bill’s shoulder and leaned in to declare, “The smart ones stay in the car.”

Animals like these make the migrant journey even more treacherous.

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Fife traces the trails for the congressman. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Humanitarian Organizations

Rev. John Fife, a retired Presbyterian minister, and Ed McCullough, a retired University of Arizona geologist, are with No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization working with migrants crossing the border.

“A couple of dozen bodies are going to be found out there this year,” Fife says. “Probably three times as many people die.”

They’ll do water drops on most of their trips, carrying plastic jugs in the back of their trucks. They tag the jugs to monitor new migrant routes. These are white — travelers often use black jugs to avoid being seen in the night.

Fife and McCullough said they only see migrants if their life is at risk. Otherwise, they said they’re required by law to call U.S. Border Security.

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Attorney Luis Parra talks about a shooting in Nogales, Ariz. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When Law Enforcement Crosses the Line

In 2012, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was allegedly shot by a border agent through the tall fence dividing the border towns of Nogales, Ariz. and Nogales, Sonora. The 16-year-old was grabbing a hot dog on his way home when he died from eight hits in his back, his mother told his attorneys and several media outlets. She is still looking for answers, including the name of the officer involved.

The case is complicated: How do you prosecute a crime that crosses borders? A federal court ruled this summer that a Mexican family has the standing to sue U.S. border agents, so the Rodriguez family did.

According to the Arizona Republic, there are six similar cases pending where a border agent has shot and killed across the border.

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The fence on the border at Nogales. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call Photo)


The relationship between Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Ariz., has become increasingly symbiotic. Years ago, locals only thought they needed northbound lanes at the border for trucks to import goods to America. Today?

“We never thought we would need southbound lanes. Now, we have four,” says Jaime S. Chamberlain, a Nogales produce distributor.

Mexico’s burgeoning middle class has increasingly taken advantage of the shopping across the border, which typically offers better-quality and sometimes cheaper goods.

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A customs agent at border security in Nogales, Ariz. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Customs and Trade

Meet the Men in Blue, or as Grijalva calls them, the “unsung heroes” of the border. These U.S. Customs agents are charged with inspecting thousands of vehicles every day as they cross the border, in part to ensure swift trade between the countries.

Grijalva says in an interview his House Republican colleagues should hear from these agents like this one on their next trip to the border.

“The business folks, and the produce brokers: They’re not exactly liberal firebrands about immigration reform,” he says. “They’re conservative businessmen that see the detriment it’s doing to the economy of the region and nationally — trade people. I’d have him talk to them, and talk to customs as much as you talk to border control.”

Bill Clark contributed to this report.

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