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Juarez: A City on the Edge

Cities along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Erik Dunham for NPR /
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Cities along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Cover of <i>Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future</i> (Aperture 1998)
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Cover of <i>Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future</i> (Aperture 1998)

From above, it looks like a city in a valley between two dry mountain ranges, a city all alone in the desert. But if you look closely, you can see where a river runs along the bottom of the valley, cutting the city in half.

On the northern side is El Paso, Texas, and to the south it's Ciudad Juarez, in the Chihuahua state of Mexico. Two cities, two countries, and with a combined population of 2.5 million people, it's the largest border community on the planet.

Americans pay just 25 cents to walk over the bridge crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico. Writer Charles Bowden, who's written two books about the city, calls it an "ecotone" -- a concept borrowed from the science of ecology, meaning a place where two habitats meet.

To the south, a Third World nation. To the north, the greatest industrial power on the planet. At the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border, both worlds meet in a gritty, sometimes violent, always vibrant collision.

In a five-part series, reporter Scott Carrier and photographer Julian Cardona profile the people who live in Ciudad Juarez -- a place with few rules, rampant poverty and a corrupt police force that can't be trusted.

"Anything could happen to you and no one would do anything about it -- and not because you are an American, because you are a human," Bowden says. "There are no empty moments in Juarez."

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