By Angela Kocherga
EL PASO, Texas -- This Sunday?s episode of "Border Wars," which was shot in El Paso and Juarez, focuses on the brutal fight over a key smuggling corridor.
?The men and women of Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security have a very tough, complex job and we?re honored to be able to tell their stories,? producer Nick Stein said.
Stein and his camera crews spend more than a month at each location embedded with the agents. They have unprecedented access to officers along protect the 2,000-mile border.
The "Border Wars" crew follows hike through deep canyons, climb into helicopters and spend hours at border crossings to show agents on the job.
In the episode airing Sunday on the National Geographic Channel features both border patrol agents and CBP officers as well as an El Paso-based reporter and television photographer who cover Juarez on a regular basis.
A "Border Wars" crew followed ABC-7 border reporter Angela Kocherga and cameraman Hugo Perez as they covered the a deadly shooting at a shopping center in Juarez and took a look at an impoverished neighborhood just minutes from the border. To view the promotional clip that features Kocherga and Perez, click here.
Warring drug cartels fighting to control this gateway to the most lucrative illegal drug markets in the U.S. turned Juarez into a battleground.
Stein said "Border Wars" wanted to shadow Kocherga and Perez on the job to give viewers a window on escalating drug violence in the Mexican border city.
?Juarez is not well understood. How did it get to be this unstable?? Stein said.
The city is Mexico?s murder capital with more than 8,000 killings since 2008. For the program titled ?Murder Capital,? National Geographic?s "Border Wars" photographer Tony Puyol, followed the the local border reporters on assignment into Juarez.
While shooting a story about an effort to restore law and order in the border city block by block starting with the ProNaf area -- a popular part of the city filled with restaurants, shops and nightclubs -- there?s a shooting at a busy mall. Kocherga and Perez rush to the scene as an ambulance loads an officer who was shot inside the mall.
"We don't cover all the shootings or murders," Perez said during an interview in the KVIA studio break room. "We want to show how (the violence) is affecting people. We go into the neighborhoods and talk to the people. That's what's important."
Perez recalled covering the funeral of more than a dozen teenagers and children who were mistakenly gunned down during a birthday party in Juarez.
"To see all those coffins. ... It's tough. It's a tragedy," Perez said.
At the mall shooting, an eyewitness who works at the mall tells Kocherga that she and her coworkers ran and hid after they heard they gunshots. The woman is shaking and on the verge of tears and so fearful she won?t give a reporter her name.
From the crime scene the crew drives to a community that is an active recurring zone for drug cartels looking for young foot soldiers.
They?ve known how to exploit the best and the brightest kids, the ones who show any leadership skills. The youngsters end up as drug smugglers or hit men.
The border news crew wraps up shooting just as the sunsets.
"It's almost sunset. Time to go," says Kocherga as she calls her cameraman, who is filming children playing on dirt roads
Later that night, "Border Wars" returned to El Paso, where Border Patrol Supervisory Agent Ramiro Cordero and fellow agents watch flashing police lights in Mexico at the scene of a shooting.
Cordero asks agents in a control center to use a camera to scour the heavy brush near the Rio Grande. There?s concern the gunman might try to evade Mexican soldiers and officers by crossing into the U.S.
As he views the crime scene on the other side, Cordero tells the "Border Wars" camera, ?It?s everyday stuff. We?re used to it. And we sit 100-150 feet north of it.?
ABC-7 Web Producer Fernie Ortiz contributed to this story.