Thousands of voters face another hurdle on Election Day: the US-Mexico border

  • Long lines at the polls are common in the US on Election Day. But US citizens who live in Mexico face an hours-long wait at the border before they reach the ballot box.
  • But voters whose lives straddle the border say a long wait is a small price to participate in an election that will have a profound impact on both countries.
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El Paso, Texas On Election Day, thousands of US citizens living in Mexico crowded the international bridges to El Paso just to cast their vote, even if they had to wait for more than two hours to cross.

With a weak Mexican peso (now valued at 21 to the dollar), many US citizens choose to live in Mexico and work in the US. This means waking up at least two hours early to cross the border, given the wait for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to green-light them.

Election Day was no exception.

"I had to wait in line for almost two hours, since I live in Juarez, just to get to vote Trump out," said Joaquín Almanza, a 34-year-old engineer.

Life between the US and Mexico has perks and complications. In addition to the US dollar's advantages over the peso, healthcare is cheaper in Mexico, but there is also increased hate speech in the US and human-rights violations at the border crossings, as well as the extreme wait times.

Almanza has lived in Juarez for more than four years and crosses to El Paso every day, even weekends. Almanza said crossing the border is a hurdle, but it is exactly why he was eager to vote.

"All this extreme border vigilance, the paranoia, and the hate speech toward us, Latinos, is exactly why we needed to vote today," he said.

On November 3, the international bridge between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso was completely full. The queue stretched almost a mile, even with COVID-related restrictions in place.

On March 21, the Trump administration implemented travel restrictions on tourist visa holders, in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus by limiting traffic from Mexico into the US. The restrictions remain in place and mean only US citizens and permanent residents can go back and forth from Mexico.

El Paso is considerably more expensive than Ciudad Juarez, according to cost-of-living data from the two cities. A one-bedroom apartment in center-city El Paso rents for $710, while it costs barely $359 in Ciudad Juarez.

US authorities estimate about 2 million US citizens live in Mexico, most of them along the countries' 2,000-mile border. Many of them cross the border daily, according to US Department of Transportation data.

Jorge Villarreal Jr., a freelance photographer, is one of them. He moved to Juarez more than a year ago, attracted by a weak Mexican peso. He chose to vote early, fearing he would have to wait too long on the international bridges on Election Day.

"I moved to Juarez so I would make more out of my dollars, but every time I think about getting back to the US, the sole reason of having to live with Trump's hate speech toward Latinos makes me want to stay here longer," he said.

Trump's anti-immigration policies and what some call hate speech by Trump and his supporters seem to be a big driver for voters along Mexico's northern border.

On August 3, 2019, a gunman opened fire in a crowded Walmart in El Paso, killing 23 people. Patrick Crusius, the alleged attacker, is believed to have written a letter before the shooting saying the attack was meant to stop a "Hispanic invasion of Texas."

This incident left deep scars in both countries, since many victims were Hispanic or Mexican nationals.

"The Walmart shooting was definitely in my head as I went to vote. When I learned that Crusius' words were exactly the same as Trump, I decided I had to vote," Villarreal Jr. said.

Villarreal Jr. didn't have to wait too long to cross the border to vote, though he fears he will have to wait longer to return for good.

"If Trump gets reelected, I think I won't move from Juarez for at least another four years," he said.

Ari Lechuga, a 31-year-old business owner, found another good reason to cross the bridge and vote.

"I live in Ciudad Juarez because I can make more with the dollars I earn. But also because I have unpaid student loans and Trump hasn't really given us an option to forgive our debt," she said.

Lechuga said that the two-hour wait to cross just to vote was worth it.

"I would like to think that my vote will make a difference for me and for all of the Americans. It was important for me to vote. This is my first time voting, and it definitely was worth the wait at the [international] bridge."

For her and thousands of US citizens living in Mexico, this election will likely decide whether they'll face a daily hours-long wait at the border just to get home and whether they can feel a bit safer on the way.

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