A few months ago, an unprecedented crisis happened in Sasabe, a small Mexican town in a remote area of the border with Arizona. A U.S. construction company closed a huge gap in the border wall that was located near the town—which was used by a group of the Sinaloa cartel to smuggle migrants into the U.S.

“That gap was very easy for that group (of the cartel) already in that town,” Dora Rodriguez, a humanitarian advocate based in Tucson, told Latino USA. 

After the gap was fixed, the smugglers moved their operations into another group’s territory. That caused the two wings of the Sinaloa cartel to start fighting for a new crossing point to smuggle migrants. 

The battle set Sasabe on fire. It originated a new wave of migrants—the locals, who never intended to move north. They first sought shelter with the Mexican authorities. Later, they ran to U.S. border officials for help. 

Some locals warned Dora about the increased violence in the area. 

“We are in a war. Some houses are burning. We don’t know what’s happening. Please don’t come,” Dora recalls.

Sasabe became a ghost town, and even Dora’s shelter, Casa de la Esperanza (House of Hope), was forced to close. The shelter used to help exhausted migrants coming from all over the world.

However, the needs of those migrants did not stop after the fall crisis, nor did the violence.

In this episode, we’re trying to answer a question about the border that is on many voters’ minds during this election year: Is there an “invasion” on our southern border? Many people living and working there say no. 

To understand what is happening, Latino USA traveled to Sasabe and to a pop-up camp that’s been set up on the U.S. side of the border fence to deal with the migrants’ needs after the crisis. On U.S. land, aid workers offer a pit stop for families and adults from more than a dozen countries, people who wait there for the Border Patrol so they can apply for asylum.

Last fiscal year, the number of what Border Patrol calls “encounters” with migrants was sky-high —3.2 million. And 2024 is on track to hit an all-time high. This is due to the end of the pandemic-era health law known as Title 42, which forced migrants to wait for a long time in Mexico.

We asked Dora if there had been an “invasion” of our border. 

“I really want people to understand that that is a very, very dangerous word to use,” she said.” [Asylum seekers] are not going into our communities illegally. They are processed. They have a paper in their hands. They allow them to be here with documents. You know, there is no invasion.” 

In this episode, Latino USA documents the realities of what happened in Sasabe and what daily life is like by the wall, where thousands of people from all over are trying to reach the U.S. to ask for asylum. They are dealing with dangers, sometimes for a matter of life and death.

This story is part of our election coverage, “The Latino Factor: How We vote.”

Featured image by Maria Hinojosa.

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