America’s Renegade Retirees

clips, Frontera, mainstream media, Mexico, words

U.S. News and World Report

ROSARITO, Mexico — At the sprawling beachfront Las Rocas Resort and Spa in the Mexican state of Baja California, the restaurant El Mesón serves up American-style pizza and Mexican seafood accompanied by a breathtaking view of the Pacific. To drum up more business, the restaurant is running a new campaign in local publications, with a limited-time offer.

Their advertisement shows a beaming, middle-aged couple, a silver-haired gentleman and a blond. Her arms are draped comfortably around his shoulders. “Super special!” reads the text over their heads, in English. “Seniors 50% off your check!” In the tiny print below, a disclaimer notes that the deal is available to those aged 55 and up.

That marketing focus is intentional. In 2017, for the first time in twenty years, Mexico topped the list of International Living’s annual ranking of the best places for U.S. citizens to retire. The population of Americans in Mexico is rising, in size as well as in age.

Yet most of them may be there illegally. South of the border, it’s relatively easy for U.S. citizens to live without legal documentation. In fact, some official reports indicate that illegal Americans seem to be the rule, not the exception.

One 2015 study from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography reveals that a stunning 91.2 percent of Americans in the country don’t have their papers in order. That figure includes typos and other minor irregularities, and doesn’t appear to account for dual nationals.

The welcome many American immigrants feel in Mexico stands in stark contrasts to the way their Mexican counterparts are treated by Uncle Sam.

At the border crossing into Tijuana from San Diego, Americans can drive straight into Mexico without stopping or showing any kind of identification.

Mexicans generally embrace Americans and the influx of U.S. dollars that accompany them, and the Mexican government rarely deports Americans – typically just for very serious crime. Fines related to immigration paperwork can range from $50 to a few hundred dollars.

Conversely, under the Trump administration, even those people who grew up in the United States, brought here as babies or children, are now being deported for lacking formal documentation.

“There is a great deal of irony there,” says Sheila Croucher, author of the book, “The Other Side of the Fence: American Migrants in Mexico.” She adds, “I believe the Mexican people are remarkably adept at separating the actions and attitudes of the U.S. government from that of the American people.”

According to the U.S. State Department, around a million Americans currently reside in Mexico. But that number is only an estimate, since citizens aren’t closely tracked leaving the U.S. For its part, Mexico struggles to tally incoming visitors.

“I think it’s safe to say that over the past few years there has been a marked increase,” Croucher says. “And there’s been no indication of a reverse flow of people coming back from the towns in Mexico where large numbers of Americans have settled.”

Statistics from the U.S. Social Security Administration show that distributions to beneficiaries in Mexico increased 7.2 percent between 2012 and 2016. Yet those numbers, too, aren’t exactly reliable: many American seniors move south while keeping their old bank accounts back home.

Some of the 15,000 Americans skirt formal residency requirements by obtaining tourist visas, and renewing them every 180 days. Otherwise, a one-year temporary visa costs about $194 USD.

Cheap living, proximity and established enclaves of Americans are three top reasons why Americans are drawn to retiring in Mexico, says Jen Stevens, the executive editor of International Living.

“Part of the reason Mexico came out on top [in our ranking] is because of the dollar being so strong this year, compared to the peso,” Stevens says. “It is even more affordable now than it was a decade before.”

Hot spots for American immigrants, young and old alike, include cities and towns like San Miguel de Allende, Rosarito, the Valle de Guadalupe, Lake Chapala and Ajijic.

And with the climbing cost of healthcare in the U.S., some American retirees also view Mexico as a good option if assisted living facilities or in-home private care become necessary.

Scott Astorga of Palm Springs says he opened a small retirement home in Rosarito in June 2016. “There’s a demand here,” Astorga says. “That’s why I’m in business. It’s growing. Back in 2003, there weren’t any assisted living facilities.”

Yet some Americans find themselves unsettled by what still seems to be a fact of Mexican life: the “mordida,” or bribe.

Sean Gunderson, 57, of Arizona bought a beachfront second home in a gated community along the Tijuana-Rosarito coast in 2004.

A few years later, the former law enforcement consultant was advised to pay a bribe after the Mexican government refused to fix a typo on paperwork related to his property. The incident rankled Gunderson so much that he decided to put his house on the market, scrapping a plan to develop a multi-million dollar assisted living community in Baja California.

“If you don’t mind operating that way, as an American, you can buy influence and connections,” Gunderson says. “But for us, in terms of investing, that was the straw that broke our backs.”

“Border deaths: The last crossing of Tiger Martinez”

mainstream media

“TUCSON, Ariz. — On Oct. 3, 2012, Pima County’s deputy chief medical examiner and two assistants peeled open a flat white vinyl body bag. The corpse inside was recovered in Cochise County, part of the hot Arizona desert lands also known as the Corridor of Death. According to the autopsy report, the 24-year-old man with braided hair was of African descent, with his “natural” teeth in good condition.

Despite having been stored in a freezer since its recovery just a few days earlier, the body had already begun to degrade. The man’s hands were mummified from the sun; maggots infested his flesh.

Typically, such a body would be nearly impossible to identify, but the hardened, leathery skin across his torso, forearms and biceps provided an inked history. His upper right arm was tattooed with spangled stars, a backdrop for the name Kiara. His right arm read, “Live For Everything, Die For Nothing,” and his upper left read “New York” and “Allan 12-26-09.” Finally, the name Betty curled across both forearms.

The body arrived clothed, with belongings: a gray baseball cap, an American flag bandana, white pants with a matching white belt, a black compass, one orange lighter and two tubes of ChapStick. Two thumb drives, each crammed with music. A knife case with no knife. Medical examiners entered each item into an electronic database.

In one pocket, the man had carried a handwritten letter, addressed to him in bright red ink. “Allan … From that first day, I loved you, I love you, and I will keep loving you.… ”

Tucked neatly into the front pocket was a Honduran identification card: Allan Modesto Martinez Alvarez, born June 27, 1988.”


Perilous Journey, 48 Hours Mystery

mainstream media


48 Hours Mystery on CBS | The January 18, 2014 hour-long CBS special “Perilous Journey” on the TV news magazine 48 Hours is based, in part, on my book “Finding Fernanda.” The show features many of my sources, photos, and documents obtained in the U.S and in Guatemala. It’s been awarded a 2015 News Emmy.

Watch it online here:


Tijuana’s ‘tent city’ shelters deported immigrants | PHOTOS

clips, mainstream media, photojournalism


Written by Michelle García, photographs by Erin Siegal McIntyre. 

TIJUANA, Mexico — There was a time when Javier Reyes conferred with architects about building plans, when a day’s work meant constructing new homes for Californians near Bakersfield. But the world of bricks and plywood he once knew has been replaced by a sea of brightly colored tents. Now he uses his quiet authority to bring a semblance of order to an informal camp of homeless people, many of whom were, like Reyes, tossed out of the United States.


On a recent morning, a tension comes over the camp. A man grabs a woman from behind and pushes her to the crowd. “She’s pregnant,” someone yells. A security team — men who live in the camp — is dispatched to break up the scuffle. Meanwhile, a tall man with a thick mustache and heavy jacket saunters up to the table and slips a paper across the table where Reyes sits — another deportee from California on the streets of Tijuana searching for refuge… 

Read the full story published by Al Jazeera America:

Tear: Adela Bello Navarro in The Toronto Star

clips, mainstream media

A new story by my friend and colleague Myles Estey is in today’s edition of the Toronto Star newspaper.

“The authorities of Baja California know who the drug dealers in the state are, but they have not detained them.”

So reads the opening line of a feature story in Tijuana’s weekly newspaper, Zeta, which goes on to name known drug dealers and provide photos and details of their whereabouts.

In other parts of Mexico, this would be a death sentence for the writer. Mexican authorities say 75 journalists have been killed because of their work since the National Action Party (PAN) took power in 2000. Zeta saysthis number as low. Its investigation found that 69 journalists had been killed in the six years since Felipe Calderón started a military offensive against the drug cartels, and 101 since 2000. Another 12 are missing. And, in 2011 alone, it found 11 media offices across Mexico had been shot at or attacked with grenades.

You can read the full article here:–mexican-journalists-risk-death-to-do-their-jobs#article

Adela Navarro Bello for Newsweek

mainstream media

Last month, I had the honor of photographing Adela Navarro Bello, editor of Tijuana’s investigative weekly Zeta. This year, Bello is included in the Daily Beast/ Newsweek’s list of “150 Women who Shake the World.” You can read all about her here, here, or here.

I was starstruck while shooting. Wanna know why? Just watch this short video clip, produced by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Also, she had a black leather bull whip on one of her shelves– a present, Bello told me, from her reporters.

Latest Tear: Newsweek

clips, LBGT, mainstream media


Latest tear accompanies the cover story of this week’s Newsweek, on gay marriage. My picture is the top right corner, a couple who were married (legally, that is!) at San Francisco’s City Hall last spring, on the first morning the state officially sanctioned it.  It’s funny seeing the other photos in the layout, as most of the subjects contained within the images were shot by just about everyone taking pictures that day. Out of all the Northern California press photographers, Getty’s  Justin Sullivan nailed the day best. He’s pretty damn good, and his blog is, too.


PDN 30 and Relentless Bleeding

file under: hope, mainstream media, musings, state of the media

This week I got an “official invitation” from the PDN 30 folks, saying I’ve landed in a “select group of talented photographers for this first stage of the PDN ’30’ process.” 

Which is mildly uplifting news, in the face of the incorrigible shape-shifting that continues to mark the current media landscape. There’s some arterial bleeding happening, and it’s going to take more than band-aids like layoffs to ebb the flow. 

Yesterday, Reuters reported that the AP would be cutting 10%, or roughly 400, jobs in 2009. And of course, Time Inc. continues to shrivel- Gawker reports that Time Europe is laying of 20 of 30 editorial staffers.

And then there’s this sad, sad story about a former photo editors working in mail room at his paper.

The Art of the FOIA, or, an Art Student Tries Math

investigative, mainstream media, musings

Over the past week, I’ve been scrambling to learn as much as possible about the fine art of FOIA’ing- that is, requesting access to government documents via Freedom of Information Act requests. Oddly enough, today it’s leading me to crunch numbers.

The director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting, Sheila Coronel, emailed a link to this wild story this morning, which talks about the price of obtaining Sarah Palin’s emails. Hard copies of the correspondence between the inquiring media and the government administrators presiding over the FOIA requests are here. 

The explanation about the alleged 15 million dollar cost kind of blows my mind- and here’s why.

First, take into consideration the following sentence, which talks about how Kevin Brooks, Alaskan deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration, determined the amount of time it would take to process the FOIA requests.

From the article: “As for the estimate of up to five hours to search e-mail for a single word or phrase, Brooks said he was just passing along the estimate from the technical staff.”

Why on earth would a keyword search take 5 hours? That doesn’t ring true. In all probability, it would take a few seconds or less to search through each individual email accounts- using email clients like Outlook or Mail or searching mail while online. The article says that the Alaskan State Department does, in fact, use Outlook- but also archives emails in two other systems, which are unspecified.

Secondly, how does this tenuously searchable mass of email constitute five terabytes  of compressed data? I mean- is that even possible?

Kevin Brooks goes on to say, “I don’t know what a terabyte is. I just know it’s a heckuva lot.”

Indeed it is.

One terabyte (TB) is equal to 1,024 gigabytes (gigs) or 1,048,576 megabytes (MB’s). 1024 kilobytes (kb’s ) equals one MB, and the size of your average 500 word email- that’s an email of medium length, mind you, not just a solitary sentence or two- would only take up 10k worth of space.

Taking these equivalents into consideration, one megabyte would contain 102.4 500 word emails. Therefore, one gigabytes’ worth would contain 107,374,182.4 emails.

Multiply this number by five, for the terabytes, and we get the alleged amount of email that Brooks is talking about- which would be 536,870,912 emails.


Now I’m no mathematician. Far from it- I left high school early, took a year off to teach snowboarding, and then ended up at art school, where numbers are for determining color mixtures, not calculations. Keep in mind, too, that we don’t know how many employees up there in the AK State Department are doing all of this emailing back and forth with Palin- she’s not just  sending, but receiving, too.

The idea of over 536 million emails sent by Palin’s office in the time that she was in office- which says was technically from December of 2006 until now, October 2008, or 21 months, is staggering. That would be 25,565,218.5 emails a month. Or, given the average month has 30 days, 852,176 emails per day. Eight work hours in a day? Well, then, that would mean 106,522 emails per hour. 

106,522 emails per hour. That means 1775 emails per minute.

All I have to say is damn- them Alaskans must have some “heckuva” muscles in their typin’ fingers.

Reuters Multimedia Pieces: Gay Marriage

clips, LBGT, mainstream media

Also, here’s a story called “Third Time’s a Charm” that Reuters put together with photos I shot last week. Click here to check it out.

Here’s some of my stuff that they’ve packaged from the past few days of weddings:

Multimedia page

Story with photos

UPDATE: And yet another link, in which Bidar (the Bisexual Writer’s Association) deconstructs Reuters “gaywashed” reporting on the piece.

Let the Gay Marriage Chaos begin!

LBGT, mainstream media

And begin it did, with me having some crap luck for once and getting stuck in a really bad spot for the historic wedding of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. Damn. Yep, the wedding cake was exactly in front of Del’s head. Let’s just say that the picture desk editors in Singapore spiked all but 5 photos I filed. 

Outside afterwards, there were a few demonstrators-  something I’d much rather be shooting than a crowded press conference disguised as a wedding reception. 

Yankee Stadium as Popeland, Day #3

mainstream media, photojournalism

Way too tired to post, but you can check out my work here:

Pope related pictures from  April 18th, 19th, and 20th

Or there’s pics on Time Magazine online, in their slideshow. Or, on the front page of the Boston Globe’s website. Or here, at Redux Pictures.

Yawn! So in lieu of my own photos, here’s a funny one my friend Bill Auth took of me, while I was wedged between a few Secret Service agents, an NYPD photog, and Police Commissioner Kelly today at the Yankee Stadium Mass.

Of course, I ended making friends with the agent on the left. He asked for a picture of himself with the Pope in the background. These Secret Service guys, I swear!

Last night, after the show ended in Yonkers, myself and my wonderful fellow photographer Erin Feinburg (yes, Chris hired two Erins, more on that later) were in the production trailer uploading our images. In popped two agents, who gave us expensive-looking business cards, along with very sheepish grins. They wanted to know if we’d taken any photos of the Pope with them in the background.


I found a shot with one of them- though it’s not exactly the Pope in the background.


what’s a “papal youth rally”?

mainstream media, photojournalism

Actually, it’s when Christian musical acts perform for bunch of nuns, seminarians, students from Catholic high schools and universities, and the Pope himself.

An excited nun.

One of the singers from Christian super-group Toby Mac.

The Pope arrives backstage.

A devout kid gets to meet him onstage.

Kelly Clarkson performs “Ave Maria” for the Pope.

The Pope performs his signature arm-wave for the crowd.

Preparing for the Pope

mainstream media, photojournalism

So after flying from SF to NYC last night, I got to St. Joseph’s Seminary this morning (big love to my lovely friend Bex, who let me borrow her car for the Brooklyn-to-Yonkers commute). The client I’m working for, a fantastic producer and total smart ass, had me work a 13 hour day shooting soundchecks and getting the lay of the land for this weekend’s, uh, Papal ecstasy. Here’s the throne, pre-Pope, on a wheeled dolly.

Christian group “The Three Graces” soundcheck. As the soundcheck ended, one of the many Secret Service agents trolling the Seminary grounds walked by me, lightheartedly growling, “I bet you can sing better than that.”

yep, again, the giants

mainstream media, sports

Here’s the weird shot of the day.. apparently this guy didn’t wanna slap hands.

And here’s my new friend Chris, who was shooting next to me and kindly put up with incessant questions about the game, his favorite players, and everything else. 

Here’s a sequence of Larue, who plays for the Cardinals, trying to bunt and getting hit in the face.

Here are some general game shots, and some batters with trying to hit.

King of the Emo Teenyboppers

gender, mainstream media

The crowd goes crazy as PATD starts to play.

Last night I shot Panic at the Disco for Rolling Stone. The show was at the Warfield, which is San Francisco’s answer to Webster Hall, I guess. The band is made up of 19 year olds, so the crowd seemed about 98% female, and about 50% accompanied by a parent. To me, it was really interesting to watch the preteen audience, with their carefully made up young faces, tight halter tops and painstakingly ironed hair- such a difference from the punk and skacore shows I went to as a teenybopper at the old El’n’Gee in New London. I remember dragging my mom to a Checkered Cabs show once, not as a chaperone, but so she could see how much fun it was to -ahem- skank. She didn’t dance, though, but seemed content to stand along a wall and gawk at the pink mohawks.

Last night it was also kinda saddening to listen to the trained girlspeak so many teen ladies utilize…

Girl One: “Like, Brendan is sooooo hot! Like totally! I so wanna make out with him!”

Girl Two: “Yeah like totally!”

Girl One: “I wanna like MARRY him!”

Girl Two: “Totally me too like that would be SO AWESOME.”

Girls One and Two (together): “EEEEEEeeeeeeeeeee!”

There were also plenty of other sentiments ecstatically shrieked from the crowd while waiting for Panic to play their set.

“Ashley Simpson is a whore!”

“I love you MTV!”

“Hondas rule!”*

“Mom let go of my arm!”


(*Honda is Panic at the Disco’s corporate sponsor, they play advertisements for their cars to the teens before the show)

Brendan Urie, lead singer of PATD.

Here’s a photo of me at work, Perez Hilton style.

Rolling Stone arranged to have me shoot the band backstage before the show- unfortunately, their beefy security guy Zack wasn’t the friendliest character, and gave me roughly 7 minutes of access. Pretty much the whole time, the band was immersed in deep conversation about body parts of high school girlfriends tasting like fruit and the Spinal Tap reunion. One PATD member wants his next girlfriend to taste like Mango-Apricot.

Teenage ladies, get on that, stat!

SF and the Olympic Torch

clips, mainstream media, photojournalism

I’m sure most of you know about the torch snafu here in SF today. It was a little chaotic- I feel pretty good about my own coverage though. Here’s one of my photos which is currently on the front page of the global Reuters site.

Starting at 8 this morning, I ran around on foot and on bike across the entire city, from the ballpark all the way up the Golden Gate Bridge in pursuit of that damn torch. Despite a pretty bad sunburned face due to losing my favorite baseball hat (riding the bike, didn’t want to pause to pick it up) and being totally exhausted, I’m happy with my coverage today. I feel like I covered pretty much everything within my ability.  Check out my site for a few more pics.


Yes, believe it or not, that is the Olympic torch, following a yellow duck boat.

Death, Race and Pulitzers

mainstream media, musings, photojournalism

Today it was announced that Reuters photographer Adrees Latif won a Pulitzer for his image of the death of Kenji Nagai, a Japanese videographer. You can read the backstory behind the shot here, on the Reuters photo blog.

What’s missing to me in the blog post is info about Nagai himself, shown here in a handout image via Kyodo circa 2003.

According to a 9/28/07 Reuters article, “…Nagai, 50, was shot dead on a Yangon street on Thursday. Pictures smuggled out of the country showed him taking photos with a small camera even as he lay dying.”

Nagai worked for the Japanese news agency APF News. The Times Online reported that the journalist’s mantra was ““Someone has to go to the places nobody wants to go.”

The winning photograph is here.

Has anyone recently looked through the history of Pultizer-winning photos, and analyzing them based on content? How many images do you think describe the moments before, during, or after someone is killed?

What do you think sells the most? The look on someone’s face before or after dying? Or would it be that last magical moment, a final fraction of consciousness?

Not to be cynical, but after leafing through the latest issue of News Photographer magazine, my curiosity is piqued. The cover image of the mag is another from a Pulitzer-winning take, although it’s not the exact frame that won the prize. It looks like it’s sequentially just a frame or two before. In it, a black woman, Diane Bryant, is caught in falling in mid-air seconds before her death.

How often have photographs of dead white bodies have won Pulitzers? How many dead or about-to-be dead people of color?


mainstream media, sports

What is it about baseball? I shot the Boston v. Oakland game tonight, and there was something I found a lot more compelling about the game than hockey. Maybe it was my mindset: instead of thinking about shooting wire images, I was completely enthused by the darker aspects of competition, and the accompanying emotions that invariably flashed across player’s faces.

Here’s a Red Socks coach, in the dugout. 


A player waits for his turn at bat. 


bbaalll.jpg A player watches a teammate at bat.

Red Carpet Reflections

mainstream media, photojournalism, unpublished work

This weekend I worked on a written piece,  which was a humorous reflection on various entertainment assignments I used to cover for Reuters and Retna while I still lived in New York. It got me thinking about my outtakes, wondering about the bad photographs I’ve taken that are the opposite of a good red carpet shot- you know, the ones where the subject isn’t just beaming faux smile at your lens.

 Like this actress from Law and Order…



or figure skater Oksana Baiul thinking very hard.

Anyone out there know of any entertainment photographer blogs who post their funny outtakes? A red carpet Bitter Photographer, if you will?

4,000 US Troops Killed

mainstream media

The number of U.S. soldiers to die in Iraq has reached 4,000, the U.S. military said on Monday, just days after the fifth anniversary of a war that President George W. Bush says the United States is on track to win. 4000.jpg

More photos on from the San Francisco vigil are on the Reuters website- including one of John Caldera, commissioner for San Francisco’s Veterans Affairs Commission that was in today’s Reuters slideshow of the top 24 images of the past 24 hours. 

Hockey, once more

mainstream media, photojournalism, sports

To be totally honest, yes, I find it inexorably tiring attempting to understand how the public is so consumed with grown men batting pucks and balls around. Tonight’s game was the second I’ve ever been to, and one good fight broke out. Gloves went flying, helmets were chucked, and it got so dirty that the ref finally had to tear the two apart when guy in the white pulled his opponent’s jersey over his head. Yep, that’s dirty. hockey1.jpg

5 Years of Iraq

mainstream media

Reuters, in collaboration with MediaStorm, has put together a multimedia piece about their Iraq coverage over the past five years. Definitely check it out here. 

I’m working from home today, editing audio for three radio pieces I have to get done. One is about New York’s Joint Terrorism Task Force post-Times Square bombing, one is a general piece about eco-terrorism, and the one I’m most excited to write and edit is one that focuses on the U.S. Army’s war simulation exercises. 

The Lusty Lady

gender, mainstream media, photojournalism

On the front page of Reuters’ international site- that is,– you can see the first story I’ve ever reported AND photographed. It’s called “When Strippers Take Over the Club,” and it’s a feature on San Francisco’s worker-owned, collectively-run peepshow, the Lusty Lady. 


If you can’t find it, here is the direct link to the story.

The entire picture story is here!