A decade ago, the colonias of the Southwest were called a national disgrace. At least 250,000 Texans lived in third-world conditionswithout water, sewer lines, or paved roadsin these bedraggled outposts along the Mexican border. State officials finally took action, curbing the number of new settlements and spending substantial sums of money to improve existing ones.
Today, a visit to the impoverished border communities tells a different story. Thanks in large part to the hard work of residents who built houses where trailers once stoodand organized to press local authorities for basic servicesmany colonias now have basic services like water and sewage. But the communities have also doubled in size, as existing families grew and newcomers embraced a chance to own land, no matter how barren. Not quite the looming social-welfare disaster they once were, the colonias remain a growing pocket of poverty on the edge a prosperous nation.