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Mexicans fleeing cartel live in limbo in Texas border town

FABENS, Texas -- The dusty streets of Fabens, Texas remind many of its politically exiled residents, of home, just across the border in Mexico.

But it was just across that border, in the Juarez Valley of Guadalupe, that José Holguín lost his oldest son to the violence of El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel.

"We were struck with great difficulty when our son was murdered. That's when we started to think, how are we going to survive? We can't be here in Juarez," said Holguín.

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José Holguín whose son was killed by the Cartel. CBS News

In the years following 2008, this town of 20,000 people was nearly abandoned. It was reduced to 1,000, when foot soldiers from the Sinaloa Cartel moved into town searching for new territory on the U.S. border.

When Holguín's bus company refused to pay their extortion fee, they shot and killed his son, Alberto.

"Inside your mind, and inside your heart, to be able to come to terms with the death of a child, it's just something nearly impossible to overcome," said Jose Holguín.

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José Holguín now lives in a home like this in Texas. CBS News

After Alberto's death in 2009, Holguín readied his entire family, crossed the border, and claimed political asylum in Fabens, Texas.

Immigration attorney Carlos Spector represents 35 families in the Fabens area seeking asylum, roughly 250 people.

"The vast majority of individuals who seek political asylum do it lawfully. They don't try to enter the country illegally," said Spector. "They go to a bridge, and they present themselves in accordance with international asylum law, and they present their case to a CBP agent."

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On the border. CBS News

Many of them take multiple years to even see a judge, and he says only 1 percent will actually be granted.

"They're not really sad that it's taking so long," said Spector. "They're frustrated that they live in a permanent state of limbo. But, nonetheless, they prefer to be waiting for a hearing than to be waiting for their death."

The distance between Guadalupe, Mexico, and Fabens, Texas is less than five miles. But that short distance, for many of these families, is the difference between life and death.

"We had to ask for political asylum so we can have a legal status," Holguín said. "It definitely wasn't our intention, we're Mexican, and we love our country, but we just can't live there anymore."

Now Holguín and families like his live in homes with multiple people per house. They are waiting to see if Fabens will continue to be their safe haven, or if they'll return to Mexico, a country that left a hole in their heart.