Things That Matter

Despite The Pandemic, The Sex Trade Is Still Booming Along The U.S.-Mexico Border

As the Coronavirus pandemic ravaged communities, workers were faced with an impossible choice. Stay at home, be safe, but risk going hungry or broke. Go out, earn a living, but risk your life and of those you care about. For so many in Mexico, this was the choice they were given.

It’s already a difficult choice to make – even if you work as an Uber driver or a restaurant worker. But imagine having to make that choice if you’re a sex worker.

The pandemic has slowed the sex trade along the U.S.-Mexico border by some degree, but in many parts it remains business as usual. So many sex workers are having to make that nearly impossible choice to work and make money or stay at home to stay safe.

And although the border is technically closed to nonessential travel, thousands of Americans are still crossing into Mexico to pay for sex, looking for a kind of fun that can’t be found legally in most of the U.S.

Mexico’s sex tourism industry is still going strong despite a global pandemic.

At the start of the pandemic, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to close the border to nonessential travel. However, tourists have still traveled south to cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez in search of nightlife, drugs, and sex.

In Tijuana famed red-light district, called Zona Norte, which is walking distance from the border, the area’s main strip is usually teeming with a frenetic action bathed in neon light. Women in short dresses and the highest of high heels stand along the sidewalks. Massive strip clubs, some with hotels attached, act as de facto brothels.

And now, although the city’s strip clubs and brothels may officially be closed due to the health crisis, many are welcoming customers through back doors. Last month a team from Baja California’s Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks (COEPRIS) carried out inspections in Zona Norte after receiving several complaints that it was pretty much business as usual in the area. 

They reported that many places are open as usual. “We sent COEPRIS and they shut them down. Yes, they were disguising it, the front door was closed, but they were entering from behind and all the same activities were being held there with the doors closed,” Governor Jaime Bonilla Valdez said.

The newspaper El Universal reported seeing a drunk American stumbling down the street to hire a young prostitute, and witnessed a trio of tourists being offered marijuana and methamphetamine in full view of COEPRIS inspectors and police officers as they inspected businesses on Coahuila Alley.

Some sex workers are doing the best they can to protect themselves…

Credit: Luis Acosta / Getty Images

Although so many sex workers are forced to make the difficult decision to stay at home or keep working, those who decide to work have other choices to make.

“I’m so scared for my health,” said Alejandra, a sex worker in Tijuana, who spoke to CNN. “I don’t know if the person I’m with has the disease or not.”

Some sex workers, such as single mother Alejandra, say they are taking precautions against the spread of the coronavirus, such as making their clients wash their hands and shower prior to the act, and requiring the frequent use of antibacterial gel. But social distancing is impossible when you’re a sex worker.

Meanwhile, a former tourism official is urging cities to promote the sex trade to boost the economy.

Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

A former tourism director for Tijuana is urging the city to “remove the taboo” of prostitution and brothels and promote them as tourist attractions instead. Pepe Avelar made those comments after being asked about night club and bar closures due to COVID-19.

“We should let them operate and exploit their appeal as much as possible, allowing for more regulation,” he said. “We should approve a promotional campaign for an activity that is historically synonymous with the city of Tijuana.”

“Let’s talk openly about this. I’m a firm believer that we need these open 24/7 in areas dedicated to bars and houses of prostitution because, in the end, these are also tourism products,” he said

As an example, Avelar used the city of Las Vegas, Nev., where tourism is promoted as “an adventure, as romantic and as a sexual destination.”

Cities on the U.S. side of the border have far higher numbers of cases putting Mexican border communities on alert.

Although Mexico’s border communities have been hit hard by the virus, it’s nothing like what’s happening on the U.S. side. For example, across the border from Tijuana in San Diego, there are 33,220 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, whereas 4,349 people have become infected in Tijuana according to official data.

This is largely why the land crossing between the U.S. and Mexico remains closed to nonessential travel. It was all done with the intent of slowing the virus’ spread.

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Trump Wanted To Torture Migrants By Deploying A Military ‘Heat Ray’ At The Border

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Trump Wanted To Torture Migrants By Deploying A Military ‘Heat Ray’ At The Border

Saul Loeb / Getty Images

It’s no secret that President Trump envisions his far-from-completed border wall as essential in his plan to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. Given previous reports of arming the border with snakes or alligators, it’s obvious that Trump envisions the wall as a punitive source of physical harm as much as a deterrent.

So it should come as little surprise that the president has wanted to deploy military-grade weapons to the border to actually ‘torture’ and ‘maim’ those who try and cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. However, a recent New York Times report goes into further detail on Trump’s ideas and they are, in fact, quite shocking.

The Trump Administration allegedly wanted to deploy a military-style weapon at the border to deter migrants.

Last week, it was reported by the New York Times that in 2018, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) had proposed using non-lethal weapon developed by the military to induce agonizing pain in migrants attempting to cross the border, with the intent to force them to turn back.

Described in overly simplistic terms by the Department of Defense as a “non-lethal, directed-energy, counter-personnel system,” the ADS is essentially a pain projector (the Times used the term “heat ray”) that subjects targets to the sensation of “heat felt from opening the door to a hot oven” all over their body. If deployed, the device would essentially make even approaching the U.S.-Mexico border a painful experience. 

So what exactly is the device that Trump and other CBP officials wanted to deploy?

Credit: Paul Richards / Getty Images

Although these ‘heat rays’ may sound like weapons for a made-for-TV villain, they’re actually very real. The U.S. Air Force began developing a weapon decades ago to give soldiers a non-lethal option for dealing with civilian mobs or or riots at overseas military bases.

The truck- or Humvee-mounted Active Denial System can affect multiple persons at range of up to one mile away. It silently emits a very high frequency microwave-like beam that can penetrate clothing and heats water molecules on the surface of the skin to 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 C).

The resulting sensation, described as being akin to pressing a hot fluorescent light bulb to the skin, is so intense that within seconds affected persons are reflexively compelled to jump aside or run away. Supposedly the pain dissipates within seconds, though some accounts describe a lingering tingling that can last hours.

Although Trump floated the idea, according to DHS officials it was never considered as part of a border enforcement strategy.

Credit: John Moore / Getty Images

Although Trump and CBP officials mentioned the possibility of deploying ADS, per the Times, the idea was flatly rejected by Kirsten Nielsen, then the secretary of Homeland Security. She allegedly told an aide after the meeting that she would not authorize the use of such a device, and it should never be brought up again in her presence.

However, the idea of using a ‘heat ray’ to torture migrants was at least entertained by some within the agency, likely emboldened by Trump’s increasingly harsh rhetoric against immigrants.

A former DHS officials is the one sounding the alarm on Trump’s alleged plan.

Speaking with The Daily Beast, former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor claimed he’d sat in meetings with the president in which “[Trump] says, ‘We got to do this, this, this, and this,’ all of which are probably impossible, illegal, unethical.” 

Among the things Taylor claims the president suggested are efforts to gas, “maim,” and “pierce the flesh” of migrants attempting to cross into the United States without documentation. At one point, Taylor said, “[Trump] looks over me and he goes, ‘You fucking taking notes?”

Other ideas Trump reportedly floated — such as building a trench around the border and filling it with alligators or snakes — was also shot down, according to the Times.

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Trump, Living In Alternate Reality, Says The U.S. Has Less Coronavirus Thanks To His Border Wall

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Trump, Living In Alternate Reality, Says The U.S. Has Less Coronavirus Thanks To His Border Wall

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Trump has long framed the U.S.-Mexico border wall – his vanity project – as protection from outside forces. He’s claimed that his wall will not only deter undocumented migrants from crossing the border but it will also prevent terrorism and crime and now, it provides health security.

On several occasions, Trump has tried to link his wall with protection from the Coronavirus. However, the pandemic is raging out of control within the United States. In fact, it’s other countries that are putting up barriers for Americans as they try to protect themselves from America’s failure to halt the spread of the disease.

Trump claimed that his border wall has protected the U.S. from Coronavirus.

During a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, Trump made an absurd claim that the U.S. was protected from Coronavirus thanks to his border wall. Wallace was pressing Trump on the U.S. response to the pandemic and how it’s number one in both infections and deaths.

“But you take a look, why don’t they talk about Mexico? Which is not helping us. And all I can say is thank God I built most of the wall, because if I didn’t have the wall up we would have a much bigger problem with Mexico,” Trump told Chris Wallace.

However, Trump must be living in an alternate reality if he truly believes that his border wall has helped prevent the spread of Coronavirus into the country. The U.S. currently has 11 times more cases and far more deaths from the outbreak than Mexico. As of today, Johns Hopkins totaled more than 144,000 deaths and 3.97 million infections in the United States.

Then there’s the fact that the Trump administration has actually been very slow to build Trump’s vanity wall project. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 245 miles of barrier have been built so far, including parts that replaced older barriers. That’s 245 miles of a 1,954 mile long border.

However, this wasn’t the first time that Trump has made such claims.

Long before Coronavirus had claimed it’s first known victim in the U.S., President Trump was already trying to connect the disease to the U.S.-Mexico border and his wall project.

At a rally in South Carolina on February 28, he argued that we needed to build more wall to keep the virus out, even though it was already in the country and spreading like wildfire.

“We must understand that border security is also health security,” Trump argued. “We will do everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country.”

That same day, the U.S. had 63 known cases of COVID-19, and Mexico announced its first two confirmed cases. Nevertheless, Trump and some of his allies have continued trying to frame illegal crossings of the Mexican border as a top potential source of coronavirus in the United States.

Just this month at a visit to an Arizona segment of the border wall, Trump tried to credit his new wall with stopping both undocumented immigration and the Coronavirus.

“It stopped COVID, it stopped everything,” Trump said.

His comments sparked outrage on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump is known for uttering complete falsehoods – he’s told more than 20,000 since taking office. But these comments about his wall protecting the U.S. from Coronavirus (as it rages within our borders) left many shocked.

In Mexico, President AMLO was asked about Trump’s assertion that construction of the border wall has prevented Coronavirus contagion coming north from Mexico. Although AMLO acknowledged he doesn’t agree with Trump, he also wouldn’t confront him.

“I respect President Trump’s point of view,” López Obrador told reporters during a daily press conference. “Of course I don’t share his opinion, but I’m not going to confront [Trump],” he added.

Both countries have been hit hard by the pandemic, but the U.S. leads the world in infections and deaths.

It’s true that Mexico has also been hit hard by the pandemic. The country is currently ranked seventh globally in terms of the number of infections and fourth in number of deaths. As of July 22, Mexico has 356,255 confirmed Covid-19 cases and has suffered more than 40,000 deaths. Although those numbers are disheartening, they pale in comparison to the figures seen in the United States.

And although the virus has spread aggressively in both countries, Mexican governors of states that border the U.S. have called for stricter border controls to protect their residents. States along the southern border (including California, Arizona, and Texas) have become the new epicenter for the virus in the United States and Mexicans hope to prevent contagion into their states.

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