War on humanity: Inside the refugee camps of Ciudad Juárez, Part Two
A girl from Honduras passes the time by watching the small world of the Ciudad Juárez refugee camp around her. | Al Neal / PW

This article is part of the People’s World “On the Border Series,” which won a first place prize in the Best Series category at the 2020 Labor Media Awards, presented by the International Labor Communications Association.

People’s World correspondent Al Neal spent the summer of 2019 in the field reporting from sites all along the U.S.-Mexico border. In his dispatches, you get a view of the towns and people caught up in Trump’s “border crisis.” This is the second half of an article detailing his visit to a refugee camp in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Earlier installments in the People’s World Border Crisis series can be read here.


Dedicated to the memory of the lives lost in El Paso on August 3, 2019—victims of domestic terrorism, innocent casualties in Trump’s war against humanity and morality: Jordan Jamrowski Anchondo, 24;  Andre Anchondo; Arturo Benavides, 60; Javier Amir Rodriguez, 15; Leo Cimpeda Campos, 41; Maribel Hernandez, 56; David Johnson, 63; Angie Silva-Englisbee, 86; Mario Flores, 77;  Raul Flores, 77; Elsa Libera Marquez, 57; Luis Alfonso Juárez, 90; Margie Reckard, 63; Sara Esther Regalado Moriel, 66, of Ciudad Juárez; Adolfo Cerros Hernández, 68, of Aguascalientes, Mexico; Jorge Calvillo García, 61, of Torreón, Mexico; Elsa Mendoza de la Mora of Yepomera, Mexico; Gloria Irma Márquez of Ciudad Juárez; María Eugenia Legarreta Rothe, 58, of Chihuahua; Juan de Dios Velázquez Chairez, 77, of Zacatecas; Ivan Hiliberto Manzano, 46, of Ciudad Juárez; Hiliberto Manzano, 46, from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; Teresa Sanchez, 82; Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, 66, from Germany.


A little girl inspects her new flip-flops. They will cover her cracked, weathered feet. | Al Neal / PW

The afternoon silence was broken by the rustling of plastic bags, whispered questions asked of parents by their children, and the gleeful laughter of having new toiletries and diapers, freshly prepared hot food, and new flip-flops to wear.

The only thing missing was medicine.

You had to look closely at the line of refugee families to see it, but there were countless sick babies and toddlers. A case of chickenpox here, bronchitis, possibly pneumonia there, low-grade fevers, malnourishment, and heat exhaustion. There was plenty of Pedialyte to go around for hydration, but unaccompanied by a tablet of aspirin or Tylenol, it could only do so much.

Without medical treatment, likely, many of those children may not make it to the other side of the wall—a grim realization, but an honest one.

“Are there any doctors here, or any that come around?” asked one of the Seventh Day Adventist pastors.

“No,” replied a volunteer from Ciudad Juárez. “It’s difficult to get doctors or nurses to come here, and even if they came, none of these families can afford medications.”

“We need to get our church members here,” said the pastor to the group of SDA volunteers folding up the plastic tables. “We have several who are doctors and nurses—they need to come with us next time…”

His voice trailed off as he turned to look at the little girl, not more than five years old, inspecting her new footwear, happy to have something to cover her cracked, bloodied feet.

Inside one of the temporary “homes” at the Ciudad Juárez refugee camp. | Al Neal / PW

I watched his eyes and saw his heartbreak at the misery endured by these families. It is a tragedy only understood by witnessing—there will never be enough written, filmed, or photographed to accurately convey the agony.

As the sun moved down slowly toward the west, I met with a Guatemalan family living in house number six. They were: Francisco, Fidelia, Silvio, Marta, and their children.

“We left Guatemala at the end of April,” said Marta. “It was more of a need than a choice to leave, we had nothing back home and no way of knowing if our lives would ever improve…so, for our children’s sake, we left it all behind and walked two months to get to the U.S.”

Silvio and Marta left with their children and were joined by Marta’s relatives, Francisco and Fidelia. And like many families, they trekked the 2,000 miles and presented themselves at an official point of entry in El Paso, Texas—as required.

“When we got to the border, we were immediately taken to a detention center, separately,” Francisco said.

“I had no idea where my son and husband were, or if they had been sent back immediately,” said Marta.

Inside one of the temporary “homes” at the Ciudad Juarez refugee camp. | Al Neal / PW

“I was held for 14 days,” continued Francisco, “Silvio ten, and everyone else in between then.”

I asked how long they’d lived in the Juárez camp.

“Almost a month,” Fidelia said, “and we still have many months left.”


“My court date isn’t until the end of August,” she said.

“I’m scheduled for December 30,” followed Francisco.

“Silvio and I are scheduled for mid-September,” Marta added.

The kids came in from playing outside, and we said our goodbyes.

In the next house over, I met two families from Honduras. They had left their coastal home city of Tela, Honduras, because of the violence taking place there.

There was only one sleeping pad in the home, and the families took turns sharing it every other day.

“While not much of an improvement, it’s better than being held by CBP,” said one father, who asked for his name to be withheld.

“I want to be an actor.” | Al Neal / PW

He continued: “While in detention we were made fun of, insulted, treated like common criminals, and had food and water withheld. We would ask for help but no help would come. Instead, they kept us uncomfortable and tormented…waking us up at random hours, flicking the lights on and off constantly so we wouldn’t rest, and telling us incorrect information about what was going to happen.”

They showed me around their temporary home quietly, all of them shy. Except for one of the youngest daughters, she tapped my back and asked if I could take her photo.

I obliged and watched her sadness disappear for a brief moment.

“I want to be an actor someday,” she said, leaving out the front door to go play with her brother and sister.

I too stepped outside, walked up and down before taking a shaded seat underneath a tree by the camp entrance. That’s where I met José.

With only $300, José left his home in Nicaragua and headed towards the U.S. border. The road was somewhat peaceful for him through Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. It got tricky when he crossed over into Mexico.

José from Nicaragua. | Al Neal / PW

“They (Mexican police) stopped me,” José said. “They asked me where I was heading, and when I told them, and let them know I didn’t have much money, they beat me unconscious. I woke up naked in the desert with nothing left. Thankfully, a nice Mexican woman took me in, helped me recover, and even helped me get a Mexican visa so I could continue to the U.S.

“Once at the border checkpoint, I presented myself, got a number, and was told to wait, so I waited. Turned out that the number I was given had already been used that day, so I was never called. I felt like I had no choice but to jump the wall and beg for asylum.”

He was held for two days and released back into Juárez.

Mother and son from Nicaragua. | Al Neal / PW

“Why’d you risk jumping the wall?” I asked.

“Because I just want to live a peaceful life, all I want to do is work, be a good person, and save money to send back to my family. My niece is a gifted musician, and I promised to buy her a guitar—now that she’s tired of just playing the violin—once I made it and became part of the United States.”

As the sun set, and families started their evening routines, I sat on the ground, closed my eyes, and leaned my head against the warm rubber top of the play area’s tire fence. I listened to the sounds of sirens and gunshots.

Regardless of the Trump administration and its vicious migration deterrents, each family here wanted nothing more than a shot at the American Dream, shattered though it may be.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.