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How will Trump affect intertwined lives of U.S. and Mexico?

November 23, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
Stopping illegal immigration and creating a new deportation task force was a central campaign promise for President-elect Donald Trump, who rallied for building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But truly separating these two countries is nearly impossible, given their deep connections. Special correspondent Nick Schifrin reports in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Conflict Reporting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: During his run for the White House, president-elect Donald Trump made Mexico, perhaps more than any other individual country, a campaign issue.

Tonight, with the help of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, we begin a special two-part series from Mexico, and a look at Trump’s promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall along the U.S. Southern border.

Special correspondent Nick Schifrin and producer Zach Fannin begin their report tonight from the outskirts of the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In the dry riverbed that separates Mexico from the U.S., the promise of a better life is only a few hundred feet away.

The woman is a 23-year-old Mexican from Juarez who asked to remain anonymous. Leading her is a half-guide/half-smuggler known as a coyote. Everything beyond the fence is El Paso, Texas. She’s trying to cross illegally.

WOMAN (through translator): There’s work here, but the wages are very low. You can barely survive here. Life there is better than here.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The coyote’s been doing this for 10 years. Compared to when he started, today’s border is much more secure.

MAN (through translator): It’s more difficult now. Before, they used to cross just to have fun. Now they cross because they want to be there, like her, and live there.

NICK SCHIFRIN: She’s part of a recent spike. From August to October, the number of people apprehended on the Southern border rose by nearly 20 percent. She’s trying to get in before Donald Trump is inaugurated.

WOMAN (through translator): They say it will get more difficult, so I have to do it now.

NICK SCHIFRIN: What would happen if President Trump built a wall right here?

MAN (through translator): We would cross anyway. We’re never going to stop crossing.

NICK SCHIFRIN: How would you cross if there were a wall there?

MAN (through translator): That’s what we wondered when the fence went up. And we found a way. Here we are. There’s always a way.

NICK SCHIFRIN: It’s not easy. Tonight, a border guard scared them away. They will try again tomorrow.

Stopping this kind of illegal immigration was a central Trump campaign theme.

DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful Southern border wall.


NICK SCHIFRIN: The Mexico-U.S. border is nearly 2,000 miles’ long. Right now, walls or fences, like this one west of El Paso, Texas, cover about 700 miles. The terrain can be rough.

But the distances between American and Mexican cities are often small. In some places, sturdy iron gives way to standard-issue chain-link fence, which is scheduled to be replaced. This fence couldn’t keep this young man out.

U.S. border agents arrest a 17-year-old Mexican who crossed illegally. He’s been arrested before trying to lead undocumented immigrants into the U.S. This time, he was spotted by a highly sensitive camera manned by an agent more than a mile away.

JOE ROMERO, Supervisory Agent, U.S. Border Patrol: They have got nighttime equipment, cameras they can use to look down and really cover a vast area with the technology they have available to them.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Joe Romero is a supervisory Border Patrol agent. He says there is no quick and easy solution to securing the border.

JOE ROMERO: Here, we have got an 18-foot fence. There’s a guy in Mexico, I’m sure, making a killing off of 20-foot ladders. At the end of the day, people find a way to get through.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Every day, they patrol for eight hours. The vehicles and fences are meant to deter and stop would-be crossers. This increased presence, along with more aggressive prosecution, began a decade ago. It worked. Illegal crossings are down 84 percent since 2006, despite the recent spike.

Is the goal to bring illegal crossings to zero?

JOE ROMERO: I can’t say that you will ever be able to stop crossings 100 percent. I just don’t see that. And, really, that’s not the goal. The goal is to mitigate the threats coming to our borders.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Truly separating these countries is nearly impossible, given their deep connections, not only geographic — I’m standing in the U.S., and everything beyond the water is Mexico — but also intertwined economies and families who straddle the border. Every day, more than a million people cross legally.

The Olivares Castro family’s commute starts every day at 4:00 a.m. Mother Reina, behind the wheel, is a Mexican from Juarez; 12-year-old Anna wants to be a doctor when she grows up. To cross the border, she needs a binder full of papers and a student visa.

About 370,000 vehicles cross the Southern border every day. The wait can be more than an hour, all of this, so Anna can go to an American school that’s better than any school in Juarez.

ANNA OLIVARES CASTRO, Student: They teach you more things. They get more deep into the subjects they teach you. I have more job opportunities. They recognize your talent.

NICK SCHIFRIN: She says this private school treats her with respect. This family and many Mexicans believe that president-elect Trump disrespects a country of 120 million.

REINA OLIVARES CASTRO (translated): Not everyone is a criminal. They need us Mexicans, they need us Latinos, and we need them.

ANNA OLIVARES CASTRO: He’s telling lies. And all those people think that we’re what Donald Trump says. But we’re not like that. We’re good people.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Two thousand three hundreds miles north, the Latino community in Columbus, Ohio, feels the same frustration and fear.

JOHN RAMOS, LULAC, Columbus, Ohio: Here in the Midwest, in Ohio, now all Latinos seems to fit a profile.

NICK SCHIFRIN: John Ramos heads the local office of the pro-Latino rights organization LULAC. He is most concerned by Trump’s promise to deport millions of undocumented workers.

DONALD TRUMP: I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America who have evaded justice.

NICK SCHIFRIN: That promise seems to have awakened previously hidden racism and nationalism.

This undocumented Mexican immigrant, who was too scared to show her face, gave birth nine months ago in Ohio. That means the daughter’s a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. is obligated to provide her Social Security. But when the mother tried to get her baby a Social Security card, a local official threw her out of the office.

WOMAN (through translator): He told me: “I can’t help you. Get out of here.” And his voice was upset. I told him: “It’s not Social Security for me. It’s for her.”

And he told me: “You don’t have documents. How dare you come here?”

NICK SCHIFRIN: Is that a federal official effectively going rogue?

JOHN RAMOS: I would say so. It’s not in his position as a Social Security employee, federal employee, to request a person to show proof of their citizenship.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The mother returned with a lawyer, and the government official gave the baby the Social Security card. But he improperly forced the mother to provide her address. Ramos says that’s never happened before.

JOHN RAMOS: If you have to provide right now your residence, your point of contact, your phone number, you’re providing a track, a documentation to follow up on you.

NICK SCHIFRIN: And that has sent a chill into Columbus’ Latino community.

JOHN RAMOS: It’s all the hate. It’s all these comments that he would say about, like, “Oh, I would just punch him in the face.”

DONALD TRUMP: Like to punch him in the face, I will tell you.

JOHN RAMOS: So you would have people now thinking that they could probably come up to you and just act on their own and attack you.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The day after Donald Trump was elected president, something happened to you at school. Tell me what happened.

GIRL: This kid was making fun of me at school. And he was like: “Are you going to go pack your bags? Are you going to go back to Mexico? Are your parents getting ready?” and all that.

NICK SCHIFRIN: The 9-year-old girl is an American, born in Ohio, and goes to a local public school. Her father is an undocumented Mexican who has been here for 11 years. They’re also scared and didn’t want us to identify them.

He runs a taco truck. He pays taxes on relatively steady income. His customers are mostly fellow undocumented immigrants. They have always felt welcomed, he says, until Donald Trump began his campaign.

MAN (through translator): Inside the Mexican communities, people go to work with fear. And the kids’ grades can go down because they’re worrying about what’s going to happen. The impact has been like a bomb. It’s affecting the children, the young people, the innocents.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In response to those fears, Mexican Foreign Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu released a video featuring Mexico’s consul generals. They urge the five-plus million undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. to stay calm.

CLAUDIA RUIZ MASSIEU, Foreign Secretary, Mexico: We are alert. That is why I have instructed my 50 consulates to increase their outreach to our community.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Massieu says she wants to work with the incoming administration, but she warns that if Trump follows through on all his promises, it’s not only Mexico that would be harmed.

CLAUDIA RUIZ MASSIEU: If the environment were to become more hostile, I’m sure the United States would also feel a negative effect in its economy, in prices, inflation, in loss of jobs, and in loss of people that really contribute a lot to different communities throughout the United States.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But even before Trump’s taken office, illegal immigration has risen, as has the panic among Mexicans on both sides of the border.

For the “PBS NewsHour” I’m Nick Schifrin in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.