Despite the growing tension over immigrationand drugs, normal life goes on between the U.S.and Mexico. People continue to cross the bridge connecting del Rio on the U.S. side with Acuña on the Mexican. One of those is Bob Kapoor who, like other citizens in del Rio, wants to take advantage of the lower prices in Mexico for basic services like medical needs. He finds Mexican doctors as qualified as American while charging much less. The same goes for a vet for his dog.
But there is another reason for his near daily border crossing. He and his wife Jyoti are financing an orphanage in Acuña for some twenty-five abandoned children ranging in age from two to twenty-one. They were found on the street where children tend to play all day and then go home. But some stay. The street with its attendant dangers is their home.
The orphanage is a welcome change. “We’re abig family,” says Bob. Whatever the age differences, the company of children make upfor the lack of parents. In most cases the mothers, usually on drugs, have given them up and prefer not to see them again. Occasionally, a grandmother will appear and ask for a child who may or may not want to leave the orphanage and the close friends he or she has made.
The scene outside is not reassuring. Like other border towns Acuña is part of a drug cartel network that extends along the 2000 mile U.S. border. Nobody does anything that upsets a cartel without paying a substantial price. So the orphanage provides protection against a possibly fatal mishap.
Acuña, says Bob, is in the hands of a “pretend cartel;” that is, one that’s aspiring to be the real thing in a smaller town that tends to be ignored by the larger criminals. That doesn’t mean the “pretends” are any less methodical in theirtrafficking. One practice is to give a baby to one or two people trying to cross the border. With that in hand they are sure to be accepted in the U.S. Once they are, they give the baby back to a cartel member who returns it to Acuña for yet another trip until the baby expires and thus is no longer useful. Prospective temporary parents can be housed in one of Acuña’s run downhotels not too far from the orphanage.
Occasionally, del Rio experiences a surge of migrants instead of the usual trickle. Thousands of Haitians piled up under the border bridge in great distress until they were sent to various parts of the U.S or stayed to work in Acuña. The Kapoors await the next expected surge in their modest but popular hotel in the busy heart of del Rio. Called the “Whispering Palms,” it’s famed for a whistling parrot named Larry with the lifespan of a healthy human who favors guests he likes with a gentle peck. It’s a comforting sight and sound in the tumult of change.