Smuggling fuels Mexico town's economy

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It’s common to find shops selling camouflage backpacks, shirts and pants, as well as shoe liners that are supposed to leave no footprints in the desert dust. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) It’s common to find shops selling camouflage backpacks, shirts and pants, as well as shoe liners that are supposed to leave no footprints in the desert dust. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The town is home to dozens of hotels and restaurants -- more of them than you would expect to find in a town this size. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The town is home to dozens of hotels and restaurants -- more of them than you would expect to find in a town this size. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
This Valley Metro van was reported stolen in October. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) This Valley Metro van was reported stolen in October. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(24 HOURS ON THE BORDER) -

The town of Altar, Sonora, sits along northern Mexico’s busy Highway 2. It’s a major thoroughfare that runs parallel to the U.S.-Mexico border. Altar sees dozens of buses and hundreds of cars pass through each day, east to west and west to east. But this town is also a major stopping point for migrants hoping to make it into the United States.

“People come over here because it’s right close to the border,” Uriel Moreno said as he sat in the square in front of Altar’s church.

“I’m just waiting for my ride. So, I’m hoping to get my ride, maybe tomorrow,” Moreno said.

The square is where migrants wait. They wait to meet a smuggler who’s willing to guide them through the desert to a U.S. city. They wait for a spot aboard a van, that will take them the 60 miles north to the border.

The town is home to dozens of hotels and restaurants -- more of them than you would expect to find in a town this size.

Stores also cater to the migrants. It’s common to find shops selling camouflage backpacks, shirts and pants, as well as shoe liners that are supposed to leave no footprints in the desert dust.

[SLIDESHOW: Migrants can buy what they need to make the dangerous border crossing]

[WATCH: Heading into town

While we were looking at the vans that line the town square, we spotted one that looked out of place. It’s a newer-looking Ford Econoline with a Valley Metro logo on the side and Arizona government plates. It turns out the van was reported stolen in October. It’s likely been used to smuggle drugs or immigrants up to or possibly across the border. We don’t know for sure because nobody went near the van while we were there.

A man inside the town’s Derechos Humanos (Human Rights) office tells us the immigrant traffic through the city is fairly slow this year. He suspects some of the migrants who would normally go home for the holidays stayed in the U.S. this time around, fearing that it would be tougher to get back to the U.S. once President-elect Donald Trump takes over in the White House.

A medic at the local Red Cross office tells us he expects to see a surge of migrants try to cross the border early in the year, before Trump’s border security ideas, including a new wall, are implemented.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Power of 2 Special Report

Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards , two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Last fall, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle, in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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Dennis WlechVeteran political reporter Dennis Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona.

Dennis Welch
Political Editor

Before making the move to television, Welch wrote and edited for the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California. Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona and his addition means 3TV will provide a stronger, more robust political presence in Arizona. He joins 3TV from the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California.

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