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THE CIELO VISTA WALMART Supercenter in El Paso, Texas, is located east of downtown, near most of the city's Mexican American neighborhoods and about six miles from the Bridge of the Americas, which connects the US community to its Mexican neighbor, Ciudad Juárez. The store keeps its doors open 17 hours a day, seven days a week, and it's almost always busy. Like all big-box stores, the Walmart sits on the edge of a sprawling parking lot.

"Vanlife" devotees and people living out of their cars know the parking lot as a place to access restrooms and park overnight. Locals and middle-class cross-border shoppers from Mexico know the store for its low prices and aggressive marketing. For Josiah Heyman, a scholar at the University of Texas at El Paso who for years has studied the borderlands and immigration through the lens of cultural anthropology, the big asphalted parcel can also be seen as a symbol of a worldview. "The view across the Walmart parking lot is the impression that there are these hordes of immigrants who are poor," he said...