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A photo document from the U.S.-Mexican border

The wall is not a solution,

in my mind it is a surrender.

Raúl Grijava, member of Congress from Arizona

Lazy waves from the Pacific Ocean hits the beachfront at Imperial Beach in California. It’s a long, flat beach, almost as far as the eye can see. Suddenly, long black pikes stands out of the sand. It’s a fence, and on the other side of that fence, you’re not in Imperial Beach anymore. You’re on Playas De Tijuana. There, on the other side, is Mexico. 3196 km further east rises a lonely watch tower from the sand banks of Rio Grande. Between this point and Imperial Beach, is the border crossed more than 350 million times throughout the year. The border between the United States of America and Mexico isn’t just a separation between to states. It also marks a divition between two nations, two ways of

political thinking and mindsets. It is the border with the largest difference between rich and poor. It is the busiest border in the world - and also one of the most guarded. Since the 1970’s, migration from Mexico to the United States has been steadily increasing, but something happened in the 1990’s. The number of immigrants exploded. The implementation of the North American Free Trade Association, the so-called NAFTA treaty, led to a lot of unemployment in Mexico, especially in the agricultural sector. When cheap american products flowed across the border, a lot of mexicans lost their jobs, because the mexican companies couldn’t compete with the industrialized, efficient products from the north. Hundreds of thousands of

New Mexico

San Diego Tijuana

Tucson Nogales

In total, there is more than 45 million americans with a Latin American heritage, and the number of lations in the United States is now bigger than afro americans. Spanish is the second-biggest language in the USA, and also the fastest increasing.

More than 20.000 agents from the U.S. Border Patrol is patrolling the border every day. More than 560 km of border fencing is lining the border. Still, U.S. Border Patrol admits that they only have effective control of about 1100 km of the total 3196 km. Most of the border runs through deserts and mountains, and in places like these, the gates are literally open. No fences, no walls. You can just walk right in to the U.S. And many people do so. Estimates predicts that as many as 500.000 illegal immigrants arrived in the United States last year. Almost 80% of these came from Mexico. Of these immigrants, almost 60% are mexicans. Some people say there is a slow flooding of people from Latin America getting into the U.S.

The border isn’t just a divide between the worlds largest superpower and a developing country. It is also a divide between war and peace. While the United States is considered a safe country, mostly, Mexico is being torn apart by two civil wars. One in the south, and one in the north. Along the border, mexican drug cartels are warring each other and the government in a bloody war about about drug markets and smuggling routes. As much as 80% of the cocain that gets into the US is coming through Mexico. The two countries are now cooperating to strike the drug traffic.

The border seems to be a necessary burden for many americans, and an unnecessary burden for many in Mexico. Even though most americans support further It is hard to say how many mexicans that really is in development of border fencing and patrols, a minorthe United States, but some sources say more than ity of people still oppose official border policies. 15 million people. If those numbers are true, it could mean that every tenth mexican is in outside the coun- The problems along the border will not disappear for a try at any given time. In addition to these numbers, long time, as long as conditions are like today in 2011. there is also approximately 1 million legal mexican But things are always changing. The fence is here to immigrants in the United States. stay, but the conditions are constantly changing. For better - or for worse.

California Arizona

migrants fled across the border. At times, several hundred people could run across border crossings at the same time. In California, U.S. authorities answered by implementing “Operation Gatekeeper”, which made it much more difficult to cross the border.



El Paso

“You show me a 50-foot wall and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border. That’s the way the border works.” Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona

San Diego, California Spring comes early to San Diego and Tijuana. Winter is just a few, cold weeks where people are freezing, and the palm trees are just silly props, contrasting the cold weather. In march, you can feel the difference, but Ricardo Flores Luiz is freezing this morning in Tijuana, just a few miles from San Diego. His night was spent under a pedestrian bridge used by people coming from the other side of the border. In a place like this, even a blanket is considered luxury. Breakfast this day consists of a cigarett and a shot of heroin. Injected in his neck by another junkie friend. – He’s not really a friend. I guess I don’t really know any of these guys, but we help each other when we’re taking a hit. I guess we’re just a bunch of random people in the same, shitty situation, he tells us. We are now at El Bordo, the feared area with a



canal that runs along the border. The district is called Colonial Libertad, and is a place you shouldn’t be at night time, if you ask mexicans living elsewhere. The canal, housing the river Rio Tijuana swings itself like a long concrete snake through downtown Tijuana. In the bottom of the canal, there are small tents on top of piles of garbage. Here, a few hundred people live. Some are deported from the United States, and almost all of them are junkies. – I used to sell used cars in the U.S. So I guess this is the punishment for all the good sales I had. 18 years I lived i San Diego, and my family is still over there, he says while pointing towards the border. Ricardo, who is 54 years old has already tried crossing the border illegally twice. The first time,

he was stabbed with a knife and robbed. Next time, he didn’t even cross the border, but got robbed again and detained by the U.S. Border Patrol. They deported him back to Tijuana. Now he’s been living under the bridge for two years. He’s been on heroin almost just as long. – I really am lonely some times. The heroin gave me something to do when I arrived here, but there’s no longer any pleasure in taking it. Now it just feels like a nightmare if I don’t take it. Still, it helps me survive every day, so that I can do a few small jobs here and there. That’s how I survive.

After “Operasjon Gatekeeper” was introduced in 1996, the border has been very difficult to cross illegally, and it’s easier to get caught and returned. This combination makes Tijuana grow in record time. Thousands of migrants come here from the south, while almost as many mexicans are deported here from the United States. Almost 80.000 people arrive here every year, but official statistics can’t keep count.

Tijuana represents the future of northern Mexico in many ways. The border fence is almost finished, and it’s a high-priority sector for U.S. Border Patrol. The number of arrests has been Ricardo is just one of thousands of deportet. reduced by 40% last year, less drugs are found Every day, bus loads with migrants are deported smuggled. from the United States into Mexico. According to The war on drugs that devastated Tijuana a few mexican border police, Grupos Beta, more than years ago is mostly over here, and while drug 500 people are deported into Tijuana every day. trafficking is still a problem, it’s not as visible as San Diego has a large mexican population, but earlier. Even though the number of murders si 28 nobody knows how many they are, or how many times higher than in San Diego, Tijuana is still that are living there legally. considered a half-way peaceful town with good prospects for the future.

I went from a detached house to sleeping under a bridge in just a few days. I have no idea if I ever get back

New Mexico

San Diego Tijuana

Tijuana, Baja California


Ricardo Flores Luiz, deported from the United States

Tucson, Arizona The sun is shining above the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona more than 300 days a year. So it does today, this morning in early march. Even though it’s spring, temperatures are reaching more than 77 degrees. In the sparse vegetation, three silhouettes are drawn against the blue sky. They stop, look around and shout out in the desert. First in spanish, then in english. Nobody answers and that is usually a good sign.

portant is to find the migrants before it’s too late. In the trunk of their SUV there is blankets, water, food rations and medical equipment. One of the group members is always a doctor. This group is trying to find the lost migrants. Those who are dehydrated, hurt or sick. “Humanitarian aid is never a crime” is their slogan. Today they don’t find any, but they don’t know if that’s because nobody’s here or if they don’t want to be found.

When the border fences were built in the 1990’s, mostly urban areas had a high priority. Large areas of desert and mountains in Arizona is without any border fencing at all. This is way many migrants are coming this way to cross the border. Without a guide and with almost no equipment, many get lost and perish. Last year, almost 400 dead migrants were found in the Sonoran desert. To Lisa Jacobsen in the christian organization “The Samaritans / Los Samaritanos” the most im-

– There is probably ten to twenty people out here, but if they don’t want to be found, there is little we can do. Only when we actually see someone, that’s when we can really help. Here, we do see a slow invation of people in need. Numbers from the U.S. Border Patrol shows that more than 1860 dead migrants have been discovered in Arizona since 2001. That’s almost half of all dead migrants found along the border.

Nogales, Sonora On the other side of the border, in Nogales, Mexico. Fourteen year old Celine just finished the first group therapy of the day. Now, she’s in her bed in the second floor of CIPAAR, the center for rehabilitation of drug addicts and alcoholics. The sun is shining through the window and you can here shouting fom the other side of the wall. On the other side is the men’s department, and 53 former drug addicts can create a lot of noise. From another room on the female side you can here the unmistakable sound of someone crying loudly.

ents doesen’t continue to pay for her. – I sometimes miss my old life, and I miss the drugs I used to take. I am often very lonely and then I long for the feeling I got when I used cocain.

Celine is one of many victims for the drug smuggling war. Because the border is harder to cross, mexican drug cartels needs to find new areas and new markets for their drugs. In many cases cartels pay children as young as thirteen years old to get other kids addicted to drugs. The cartels gets new customers and more money, but the local neighThree montsh ago, her parents brought her here. bourhood and local families pay the price. When she arrived, she had already become a user of cocain, methamfetamin, marihuana and alco- Celine is one of those girls that got tricked to “just hol. Money for the drugs was brought in by theft try a little”, and now she regrets. As one of many and prostitution. Shee looks down when we talk drug abusing children in the Nogales area, the futo her and her voice is weak and sounds unsecure. ture does not seem as bright as it did only a year She will soon have to leave this center if her par- ago.

People are dying in your own back yard, and there is something that you could do to help. That is my motivation. California




New Mexico

Lisa Jacobsen, The Samaritans Texas

El Paso, Texas – What are you going to do in Mexio? How this is the deadliest town in the world. In 2010 long have you planned to stay there? OK. May I more people were killed in Juárez than in Afghanhave the key to your vehicle? istan since the war started there in 2001. 3075 people were killed last year, but the actual number The officer from U.S. Customs and Border Pro- is probably much worse. Seven people are killed tection has a friendly but determined look on his every day in average. Most of them get shot, while face while he holds his hand out, waiting for the som gets decapitated. key to the big Ford Explorer car we are sitting in. A little surprised, we have to ascertian that this is Juárez is right now the war scene for the largest the only border checkpoint where you are stopped armed conflict on the america continent. Two and checked on your departure from the United large criminal organizations, better known as drug States and in to Mexico. cartels, are fighting for power in the city. Juárez is working as a distribution hub for drugs and the It’s not just a random Mexican town we are sup- most important smuggling routes for drugs to the posed to visit. 2 minutes drive from down town United States is through this city. A billion dollar El Paso, Texas, is Ciudad Juárez. The city is well market for drugs is the grand prize for the winner, known, but it’s reputation is not good. Right now and everybody is competing.

Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua In 2011, two main drug cartels are fighting for control here. Murders, extortion and threats is the prize it’s residents have to pay. In the middle of this chaos you can find Luz De Carmen Soza. As a crime reporter for El Diario De Juárez, the largest newspaper in town, she has a work day more extreme than most other people. Dead bodies are normal, gunshots are an everyday thing and decapitated bodies are yesterday’s news. She has been threatened by the cartels several times, but she insists on not stopping her reports. – I won’t stop doing this. It’s too important that the people get to know what’s happening. How would things become if they could silence us? I won’t take any special precautions. I don’t have a gun and I walk the streets every day.

It would be a lot easier if the cartels could give us a proper message. Talk to us! So far, the newspaper have lost two of its staff. One crime reporter and a twenty year old photographers apprentice. The editor, Pedro Torres is not optimistic for the future. – The cartels are calling us, threatening us if we publish certain stories, but the police wants positive stories, so they are threatening us as well. It is scary to work here, but we have to cover as much as we can, even if we are putting ourselves in danger by doing so. – The cartels have to finish their internal business before we can have peace in this city. I just fear we will see a lot of blood and a lot of headless bodies in the meantime.

Juarez is litterally a war zone. If you are trying to find trouble, this is really a place where you will find it Pedro Torres, Redaktør i El Diario De Juarez



New Mexico

El Paso Juarez


Captions 1: Marco A. Vargas is deported from the United States and is climbing the border fence at Playa de Tijuana just to bother Border Patrol 2: Border fencning at Tijuana/San Diego 6: San Ysidro border station. To the left, cars entering U.S. to the right, departing the U.S. 10: A family walks through the fence and gets stopped by U.S. Border Patrol, Tijuana. 12: A man selling puppies to commuters waiting in line for the San Ysidro border station, Tijuana 13: El Bordo, Colonial Libertad, Tijuana 14: Taco stand and prostitutes, Tijuana 15: Streetlife in Tijuana 16: Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Tijuana 18: Ricardo Flores Luiz takes his shot of heroin in his neck, Colonial Libertad, Tijuana 19: –My dog is my only true friend, says Ricardo Flores Luiz 20: Wrong use of heroin syringes created these wounds, Tijuana. 21: Armenui Avakian singing at La Sexta (6th street) in Tijuana 22: Armenui Avakian in Tijuana 23: A drugged man looking through the border fence towards San Diego 25: Downtown San Diego 26: Business men at Hyatt Hotel, San Diego 27: Prostitutes at Zona Norte, Tijuana. In this area, prostitution is partly legal and is happening in broad daylight. 29: Border Patrol-agent Michael Jimenez keeps a lookout in the most active area in San Diego sector. 31: Crosses marking victims that have tried to cross the border, Tijuana, Mexico. 34: U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, Three Points, Arizona 35: Members of The Samaritans in the Sonoran desert, looking for migrants in need, Arivaca, Arizona. 37:U.S. Border Patrol transfer captured migrants between cars, Arivaca, Arizona 38: Lisa Jacobsen and Norma Price from The Samaritans in the desert close to Sasabe, Arizona 39: Tommy Rompel is store owner at “Black Arms Armory” i Tucson, Arizona 40:Scott Thompson gets his modified AR-15, assault rifle. Tucson, Arizona 41: Deported children, Nogales, Mexico 42: Deporterte children in local social housing estates, Nogales, Mexico 43: 14 year old Celine at the rehab center. She is a drug addict and had to steal and prostitute her self to pay for drugs. Nogales, Mexico 44: Police office, John Morgan, Tucson Police 45: A mexican is arrested by Border Patrol in Tucson, Arizona 46: A mexican girl is arrested and sent to a migrant camp before deportation. 47: The border fence between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona. 51: The family of a young SEMEFO agent, the mexican forensic detectives, are crying during the agent’s funeral. He was shot on his way home from work, probably by a member of a drug cartel. Juárez, Mexico 53: The journalist “El Choco” from El Diario de Juárez was shot by drug cartel members while he was home. Juarez, Mexico 55: Federal Mexican Police checkpoint, Juárez 56: Armed to the teeth. Federal Police in Juárez. 57: The military have more than 5000 soldiers in Juárez to fight the drug cartels. 59: Mexican gardener in an american upper class district, El Paso, Texas 60: Mexican americans, , El Paso, Texas 61: Crime reporter Luz Del Carmen Soza at work for El Diario de Juárez. 63: Street life in Juárez, Mexico. The district of Altavista is considered the most unsafe part of Juárez. Here approximately one murder happens every day. 65: American upper class district, El Paso, Texas. 66: A few kilometers from the house on opposite page is this street, Juárez, Mexico 67: An artists impression of re-building the old tramway between El Paso and Juarez. El Paso, Texas. 69: Border fencing. The train line from Mexico to El Paso, Texas. 73: Border fencing through the mountains close to Tecate, Mexico.


Andreas Ståleson Landstad, Are Arstad Skøien, Line Mehlum, Silvan Händeler, Lizeth Noriega, Topo, Armenui Avakian, Eon Guerrero, John Morgan, Anthony Danes, Luis Torres, Christian, Tommy Rompel, Jesse Goodwick, Tom Rompel, Zachary Rossow, Michael Jimenez, Isabel Arvizu Lopez, Christian Torres, Luz Del Carmen Soza, Maria Curry, and many others. A very special thanks to: Iain Maurice Campbell for help and company in the U.S and Mexico, and also to Alejandro Cossio og Sandra Dibble. Thanks to Aleksander Andersen, Maria Bratt, Jonas Bendiksen, Bernt Eide, Per-Anders Rosenquist og Martin Slottemo Lyngstad for help with editing. Borderlands: Journalistic project and exam at Oslo University College Bachelors degree of photo journalism. Spring 2011 First edition 2011 Copyright Håkon Jacobsen

Front page photo:

Border fence at Playas De Tijuana. All photos by: Håkon Jacobsen

Borderlands English (new)  

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