US election campaign seems remote to people along Mexican border

By Alex Segura Lozano

San Diego/Nogales/Yuma/El Paso, Oct 8 (efe-epa).- Residents on the US border with Mexico feel forgotten, abandoned and stigmatized by politicians in Washington who they see as utterly ignorant of their reality. So it’s hardly surprising that national politics are not a frequent topic of conversation, despite the impact decisions made in the White House and Congress have on the people living along the boundary that stretches 3,145km (1,954mi) from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.

A journey following the route of the border from San Diego to El Paso, Texas, can help one understand how people in the region view the presidential race between incumbent Republican Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden weeks ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

One of the Americans disenchanted with electoral politics is Aaron Ruiz, a 32-year-old US citizen who commutes daily to an IT job in San Diego from his home across the border in more-affordable Tijuana.

“Honestly, I don’t believe in politics at all. I don’t think either one would be any good,” Ruiz tells Efe when asked which candidate would do more to improve his life.

Among those in the border region who find a reason to vote, their preferences tend to favor Democrats. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton garnered majorities of nearly 70 percent in San Diego and El Paso, while Trump prevailed in only nine of the 23 counties that abut Mexico.

Apart from San Diego, where per capita income is relatively high, communities on the border tend to suffer from structural economic problems that are reflected in high rates of poverty.

The lack of dynamism is evident on the streets of El Paso, where the coronavirus has resulted in the shutdown of “more than 80 percent” of businesses, according to Pablo Menchon, an unemployed middle-aged man who spends much of his day sitting on a bench with friends dealing with the same situation.

Acknowledging that he “doesn’t know anything” about the election, Menchon says he would never vote for Trump because of the president’s “racist” attitude toward Hispanics.

Gema Hernandez agrees, referring to the situation on the border under the Trump administration as “very sad.” There is “a lot of discrimination toward Mexicans and all people of color,” she says while waiting at a bus stop San Diego.

Fighting such discrimination is part of the mission of the Border Network for Human Rights, based in El Paso, whose founder and director, Fernando Garcia, tells Efe that the pandemic has fallen hard on communities struggling amid a poor economy in an atmosphere made worse by Trump’s “aggressive immigration policies.”

Policies, Garcia says, that have led to members of the community “being jailed, to children being put in cages and to detained people dying in detention.”

Latinos in the border region would find it “extremely difficult to endure” another four years of Trump, the human rights activist says.

Some 550km (342mi) away in Nogales, Arizona, people on the street are more positive about Trump’s hard line on illegal immigration.

The once-busy main shopping district, on Morley Avenue, is just a few meters (yards) from the boundary separating the Arizona town from Nogales, Mexico.

Isabel and Areli, two 21-year-olds who were born in the United States but live south of the border, just came through the Port of Entry on their way to interview for jobs at a fast-food place on the Arizona side.

Though rejecting Trump’s characterization of immigration from Latin America as an “invasion,” Isabel says that the situation of Mexicans who cross the border daily to work at menial jobs in the US is not good.

“Immigration is a problem for both countries,” she says, declining to rule out voting for Trump.

Maria Avalo, 67, who came to Arizona from Mexico five decades ago, insists that Trump “has done nothing” to bother her, her family or the community.

“Those of us who are here, we’re fine, but (Trump) can’t help those who just came in,” she says, leaning against the wall of one of the few open shops, before adding that among the recent immigrants “there are people who come to kill and to create disorder.”

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