The future sometimes depends on a piece of paper, a document, or a certified letter that must be completely submitted. Exactly 200 meters from the border crossing between El Paso in Texas/USA and Ciudad Juarez/Mexico, the “Selecto Services” store offers these services.
Often the most important point of contact for immigrants: the fax and document service in El Paso/Texas
“Do you have to print your I-94? We’ll help you here,” says the tab on the gray porch. Everything is in Spanish, the target group is clear. An I-94 is a document for entry into and exit from the United States and like all other offers, whether it is notarization services, translation services, or shipping services within the United States, the services are aimed at immigrants. Sometimes the first step into a new life begins with a fax or simple hard copy.
Recession in the epidemic
In 2019, before the pandemic, 22 million cars and 7.2 million pedestrians crossed the border from Mexico into the United States. In the pandemic’s first year, 2020, trade between the two border cities fell by 60 percent, at times dropping to the equivalent of €512 million. The situation has now recovered, which is a boon for retailers on both sides of the border.
However, there is still an epidemiological divide: Masks should be worn south of the border, but not in El Paso. Of course, there are respirators for sale here for those planning a day trip.
Microeconomics with a clear target group
A few meters from the fax service on El Paso Street, the name of an entire southern Texas city, a small economy has developed to provide those who have just arrived from across the border what they urgently need. Transportation, telecommunications, clothing – things that can be crucial sometimes. A handful of companies offer bus transportation to various American capitals.
“Contrary to what some politicians claim, there is no invasion here. Almost all the people who get here have a clear destination and travel from here to the whole country. And they usually don’t stay in El Paso. This is a huge center,” says Marco Raposo of the El Paso Archdiocese in an interview. With Deutsche Welle, his department takes care of incoming immigrants.
Before getting on the bus, many buy new clothes if the clothes they wore were torn from the long journey. Three sets of shirts start at $5 and shoes start at $4. Many of the stores are under Asian management, and seem to have direct relationships with cheap factories in China or Bangladesh.
And unlike a few blocks away—where a table at a restaurant in downtown El Paso can cost $125 per person, even for immigrants—Mexican street food is available here for $3. It is paid in cash, not by card.
No shopping experience, but tangible missions
This microeconomy has almost homogeneous clients. Few tourists or El Paso residents mix with visitors. It’s not about the shopping experience either. It’s about quick and necessary missions on the way to somewhere. “Immigrants often have a clear plan. They are in contact with relatives in an American city, they want to work as quickly as possible, and in order to do that they have to do some things right away,” Raposo says. .
Same picture on the other side of the border. In Ciudad Juarez in northern Mexico, the goal is to complete the last leg of the road to the USA. On the last few meters before the Puente Internacional Paso del Norte bridge, there are countless exchange offices where arrivals can exchange their local currencies for US dollars. For many, this is the first real shock, the dollar is stronger than ever these days.
Approximately 20 Mexican pesos there is a dollar. Many families use this to eat cheaply again, because life is much more expensive just 200 meters away. Just in the shopping street of El Paso you feel right at home.
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