President Trump announced he could send as many as 15,000 troops to the U.S-Mexico border to strengthen security as the administration prepares for the migrant caravan to arrive from Central America. The caravan, which is still a distance away and traveling through Mexico, has already shrunk by 50 percent, falling from 7,000 to less than 3,500 people, according to The New York Times.
For people who live in an international border community like El Paso, Texas, the anticipation of the caravan has already impacted their lives.
Estefania Castillo, 23, is a graduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and she crosses the U.S-Mexico border every day to attend school. But as the migrant caravan gets closer to the border, that commute has gotten harder. As security intensifies at the border, Castillo is now faced with the possibility of being trapped on one side of the border. That could mean being cut off from her family, or not being able to attend school.
YR Media’s Antonio Villaseñor-Baca sat down with Castillo to talk about the impact on her life if the border was to close.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Antonio Villaseñor-Baca: Where do you live and what is your commute like to the university?
Estefania Castillo: I have a visa that allows me to live in the U.S while I study, but I choose to live in Ciudad Juárez. That’s where my family is from and I’ve always lived there. I cross the border every single morning to come to school and work.
AVB: What are your thoughts on the caravan? What are your worries as the migrants get closer to the border?
EC: I don’t think they’re going to get here to Juárez because they’d have to cross the Chihuahua desert, and that’s not nice. So I don’t think they’re going to come here. But, it’s scary. I also feel like it’s very confusing because on the one hand it’s good — people are getting away from all these bad things. But at the same time, bad people are taking advantage and joining the caravan. I think there [are] a lot of narcos and criminals coming along. I’ve read there [have] been some altercations between the caravan and the Mexican police. Obviously that looks bad because that justifies Trump and his negative rhetoric. I feel so bad saying this, but I really hope they don’t come here. It will affect everyone here.
AVB: What are your worries?
EC: I am really worried and a lot of people are like “Oh, whatever,” but it is scary. CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] keeps threatening to close the border, completely. They sent out a letter saying that they’re going to be closing the [international] bridges at random times for 10 minutes for training and simulations. But 10 minutes really translates to an hour. They have to first clear everyone off the bridge [before they close it.] And it’s random, so you don’t even know which bridge will be closed or when it will happen. It’s scary. What if I wake up and they’re like, “Oh yeah, that bridge is closed. You can’t come,” and I have class that morning?
AVB: What changes are you having to make to your commute to address the closure of the bridge?
EC: I’m going to pack a bag with some clothes and some essentials and I’m going to leave it at a friend’s house. That way if I get stuck in El Paso, I can stay with her. But I don’t want to have to stay, not because I don’t like El Paso, but because it feels wrong. Like, it feels wrong to have to move because of the caravan or the government’s response to it. I shouldn’t be stuck in El Paso. I should be able to cross back home and do so freely.
AVB: Have the wait times at the bridge changed during the Trump era?
EC: I think it’s been pretty normal but these last couple of weeks with the caravan, it has changed. There have been longer lines. In the morning, I’ve been doing like 20 minutes of wait time where I normally would do five minutes. [They’ve] started closing the bridges and now the express lanes have disappeared, so a lot of people are just staying in El Paso. People are scared that they’ll get stuck in Juárez and won’t be able to cross back to El Paso. The lines have decreased [coming into the U.S.] and the lines to go back to Juarez have gotten a lot shorter.