John Burnett

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In the endless boom and bust cycle of the oil business, there has never been anything like 2020. The oil patch is reeling from historically low prices. Futures for West Texas Intermediate crude closed at $25 a barrel on Friday, down from more than $60 a barrel at the beginning of the year.

On a normal day in Andrews County, you can look in any direction and see the bobbing horse heads of pump jacks stretching to the horizon, sucking up oil from deep in the Earth. But these are anything but normal days.

With public life paralyzed by the coronavirus shutdown, a sad announcement came last week from a beloved cafe and music venue in Austin, Texas. Threadgill's, the Depression-era beer joint where Janis Joplin got her start — and later a place that fed Austin's appetite for good food and good music — is closing for good.

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President Trump is offering more details now about his plan to temporarily block some immigrants from coming into the United States. Last night, he said a pause of 60 days on green cards for foreigners could help protect jobs for U.S. citizens.

Ten thousand cars waited hours in line for emergency food aid in San Antonio last week. A drone photograph of the packed parking lot went viral. Two thousand more showed up for another distribution today.

These were some of the more than 20 million unemployed Americans, many of them recently laid off because of the pandemic.

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The streets of downtown Laredo, Texas, are deserted. For decades, this dense retail district has catered to Mexican shoppers coming across the bridge from Nuevo Laredo. But these days, stores like Cindy's Electronics, Classic Perfumes, and Casa Raul Mens' Clothes are shuttered.

"Now our business has dropped 80 to 90%," says Natividad Dominguez, leaning on a glass case full of empanadas, turnovers and donuts at Pano's Bakery. "People would come across the bridge and pick up a donut. But no more. It's affecting us a lot."

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After a 10-month odyssey from a Honduran slum to a North Texas suburb, 17-year-old Marvin Joel Zelaya takes a sip from his first vanilla Frappuccino and marvels at his new surroundings.

"There's order, there's security," he says. "There's not so much poverty and delinquency."

Zelaya is living with a relative in the antiseptic suburbs that extend from Dallas to Fort Worth. He is going to high school and waiting for his first asylum hearing in June.

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A visit to the now-defunct Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course in Brownsville, Texas, is a cautionary tale of how Trump's border wall can create dead zones. The clubhouse is shuttered, par signs are fading and the once-manicured greens are fields of weeds.

In 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, working with the University of Texas at Brownsville, built a security fence on the southern edge of the campus that effectively walled off the popular golf course from the rest of the city.

The pricetag for President Trump's border wall has topped $11 billion — or nearly $20 million a mile — to become the most expensive wall of its kind anywhere in the world.

In a status report last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is overseeing wall construction, reported that $11 billion has been identified since Trump took office to construct 576 miles of a new "border wall system."

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President Trump often tells his supporters he is delivering on his signature campaign promise. Here he is at a rally in Milwaukee this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Over the past 41 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been buying up land on the lower Texas-Mexico border to protect one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America from developers and farmers.

But the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is a hotspot for illegal immigration and drug smuggling, as well as biodiversity. That's why the Trump administration is planning to build 110 miles of border wall through the valley (which is actually a river delta).

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf visited a construction site in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas on a windswept day last month and repeated a Trump administration pledge.

"We are on track to build 450 to 500 miles of new wall by the end of 2020," he told reporters. Behind him, steel panels atop a concrete levee wall, 30 feet in all, are rising from the sugar cane fields and bird sanctuaries of the valley — which is really a river delta. They are the first section of new border wall built under President Trump where there was no barrier before.

Alexis Martinez, a Honduran man who traveled with his two young sons to seek asylum in the United States, last saw them holding hands, their faces streaked with tears, bravely walking across the Gateway International Bridge into Texas — alone.

After weeks in a makeshift refugee camp in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, Martinez knew he had to send 5-year-old Benjamin and 7-year-old Osiel without him. Benjamin had contracted bronchial pneumonia, and Martinez couldn't afford any more antibiotics.

Scott Wheeler was born and raised in what's known as the Northeast Kingdom, the rugged and beautiful countryside where Vermont abuts Canada. Even so, he didn't realize he was supposed to check in with Canadian immigration authorities when driving across the border recently.

Two polite, officious Mounties tell him to make a U-turn and follow them back to the port of entry where he's questioned about his intentions inside Quebec. He explains his mistake, and eventually, the Mounties return his identification and he's free to go.

It is the 8 a.m. assembly at Cactus Elementary School, located on the bleak plains of the Texas Panhandle. Kids with colorful backpacks and sleepy eyes sit cross-legged on the gym floor while their principal kick-starts the day: "Good morning, Cactus Elementary!" The students crow in response.

Many of them come from poor villages in faraway lands — Central America, Somalia, Myanmar, Congo, Haiti — and they're clearly thrilled to be in school.

Construction has begun on President Trump's border wall between Arizona and Mexico, and conservationists are furious. The massive barrier will skirt one of the most beloved protected areas in the Southwest — Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, recognized by the United Nations as an international biosphere reserve.

On a recent drive along the borderline, a crew was transplanting tall saguaro cactus out of the construction zone.

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Federal agents were patrolling the Rio Grande in an airboat between Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in September 2012. They say a group of men in a park on the Mexican side of the river began throwing rocks at them.

"I just remember the boat. They started to shoot and they hit him in the heart, and he fell to the ground," says Priscila Arévalo, the daughter of one of the Mexican men. "We ran away. When we came back, my papa he was already dead."

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One day last week in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a fearsome gun battle broke out on the main boulevard to the airport, as drivers careened off the thoroughfare in terror while rival narcos blasted away at each other.

The Cartel of the Northeast operates with impunity here, cruising around town in armored, olive-drab pickups with Tropas del Infierno, Spanish for "Soldiers from Hell," emblazoned on the doors.

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