Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

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

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.


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.

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

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.

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

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.

Fife, right, shows Grijalva, left, a map of the migrant trails. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.

Luis Parra, attorney representing the mother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a Mexican teenager who was allegedly shot by U.S. Border Patrol agents in 2012, talks about the case to Grijalva, left, and staff at the spot of the shooting in Nogales, Ariz. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.

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

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.

A customs agent at border security in Nogales, Ariz. (Bill ClarkCQ

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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  • HelpSaveMaryland

    Really? Life can be complicated but enforcing immigration laws is a piece of cake in comparision. The only thing broken is the will of this Administration to deport those here illegally who crossed the border or overstayed a visa. Start by deporting the illegals roaming with impunity from the law in our neighborhoods. Take some photos of that process with the illegals in handcuffs. Next, round up those who walk across the border, fingerprint/photogragh them too. Promise to put them in jial if you see their faces again. Advertise this to the Mexican government and all Central American countries. Problem solved. No Amnesty. Jobs for Americans.

  • teapartyimmigrationcoalition

    Well, if you wanted the truth, you wouldn’t go to this Congressman. The truth is that the Border can be secured; it should be secured and, because it’s not, we are being killed at the rate of 25 per day by illegal aliens. And that’s only the tip of a very huge iceberg.
    Texas estimates that 600,000 crimes by illegals in 6 years. Extrapolating that, we get 1,200,000 crimes per YEAR nationwide! And that’s by illegals. And these would be unnecessary because, Mr Congressman, if they weren’t here, for the past 10 years alone, Nearly 100,000 Americans would still be alive!
    How do you like having blood on your hands, Mr Congressman?

  • Bill__Kennedy

    You should have one picture of the Ebola crisis, which could have been stopped some time ago for well under half a billion dollars. That’s about when the American establishment was obsessing about the great ‘humanitarian crisis’ on our Southern border. This was when a lot of mainly middle class Central Americans and their children showed up there demanding aid. Obama wanted $3.7 billion as an opening payment to cope with it.

    The American establishment pushes immigration to the max because corporations and K Street want that endless supply of cheap labor and population growth, which makes their investments more valuable. So they marketed this invasion as our great humanitarian duty to put up the immigrants and their gang escorts at HHS at $1000 / day, average 35 days – K Street compassion.

    Meanwhile, people including heroic health workers die from Ebola because African hospitals lack cheap basics like bleach and rubber gloves, and a real humanitarian crisis spins wildly out of control, but apparently the establishment hasn’t figured out a way to monetize Ebola yet.

  • Malcolm Kantzler

    All of these “complexities” have no bearing on the uncomplicated solution: control the border. It’s simple to see that border control impacts national security from the perspectives of terrorism, crime, disease, and economic strain, not to mention preservation of regional, state and national heritages and cultures.

    Federal enforcement agencies should foster cooperative working relationships with state and local agencies to control the borders and process apprehension and returns, not block them. The federal government should penalize Central and South American countries which don’t attempt to control their borders, reward those which do, and the Mexican government should not be allowed to maintain its network of U.S. consular offices, the purpose of which is to assist its nationals to remain here without authorization.

    U.S. retail and banking financial institutions should not be permitted to transact financial business with undocumented aliens.

    Congress should get off its rear and allow citizenship for honorable military service and take non-citizenship-path measures to give residency to the parents of children smuggled here and raised here so as to remain with them as those children grow to become acclimated, contributing citizens, and establish controlled visa programs to allow those workers industry requires to cross borders legally when those workers cannot be obtained through citizens. The impact of immigrants as possible future voters should not be in the equation as it is now.

    That’s not complicated.

    • Rob_Chapman

      The “Control the border,” advocates myopic views will engage US law enforcement in dictatorial tactics with no enhancement of border security.

      Given the vast numbers of people and tonnages of freight crossing the US-Mexico border the idea of controlling the border is at best disingenuous.

      The effect of increased border surveillance has mainly been to keep illegals on the American side of the border longer as they don’t want to risk repeated border crossings.

      Criminalizing the hiring of undocumented workers is a better approach for domestic control of who stays in the USA.

      As for controlling who comes in, offering easy to obtain work visas for those wishing to come temporarily would help us keep track of who is coming. Making the recipients of those visas post a bond which would be forfeited if they didn’t return to the place of issuance when the visa expired would bring them back home.

      We know people pay thousands of dollars to coyotes to guide their border crossings. The money for the bonds is there.

      All that is lacking for a solution of the US border problem is GOP willingness to let it go as an electoral issue.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Illegal immigration should favor Democrats in future elections.
    That is important, the collateral damage is not important.
    Got it?

  • BMarie

    Some great ideas in these comments, including criminalizing the hiring of illegals, not allowing banking institutions to do financial transactions with illegals, etc. I would also suggest not issuing driver’s licenses or spending any other money on any illegal, other than emergency medical care, and children born to 2 illegals should not be U.S. citizens, which ends up costing us even more. Spending millions on more border security is pretty much a lost cause and all it will do is cost the taxpayers even more money we don’t have. If we are going to jeopardize our children and grandchildren’s futures by putting us even deeper in debt than we already are, shouldn’t that money be spent on U.S. citizens instead of illegals? A majority of the world lives in poorer circumstances than we do in the U.S.- that is not an excuse to allow millions of illegals in the country. Of course, most of our elected representatives seem to care more about their own reelection than they do about actually operating the country for the benefit of the U.S. taxpayer, so probably no reforms will ever be made, except to let more in and give them even more benefits.

  • Bar Abbas

    In August of 2007, an illegal alien was arrested in Huron, Ohio for molesting an 8 years old girl.

    • erick

      Was the illegal alien a priest? Priests molest children quite frequently.

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