Inhabitants of this Texas border city consider routine what they admit is unusual: part of the work force is undocumented, multiple security corps are deployed in the area, and poverty persists.

Laredo, the busiest merchandise gateway on the Mexican-U.S. border, has some 250,000 inhabitants, all but 4 percent of them Latino and most of them Spanish-speaking.

"Every home in this city probably has ties with an undocumented worker," Roman Ramos, a paralegal for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc., says. "There are no specific places here for hiring the undocumented, here they're integrated into society."

Many undocumented workers are employed in private homes as maids, gardeners and caretakers for the elderly, but it's also common enough for construction, transport and catering companies to hire them.

Many of Laredo's undocumented are authorized to come and go as they please: they have temporary crossing cards known as Laser visas, which are not work permits but provide the same rights as tourist visas within the area close to the border.

"There are even customs agents who employ undocumented workers in their homes," says attorney Israel Reyna, manager of the Laredo office of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

Despite the normalization of the undocumented phenomenon, border cities still suffer the most negative aspects: human trafficking and families' fear of deportation.

"Fear of deportation is much more evident among my clients because they won't call the cops even if it's absolutely necessary to do so," says Daniel Monahan, a lawyer from Boston who also works for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

His colleague Guadalupe Canales grew up in Laredo.

"I grew up very close to the river. And border agents chased after the immigrants, running through the garden, jumping over was like a television show," Canales says. "It's horrible, but that's the conditions we grew up in." EFE