As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law, the violent drug war in Mexico continues, with the death toll over the past six years exceeding 50,000. Supporters of the Arizona law often talk about violence spilling over the border, but there has been very little impact on the U.S. side, where trade and tourism continue in spite of all the bad press. The biggest complaints there have to do with the economy.
People who live on the hillside in Nogales, Arizona, look out on Mexico every day, and all looks tranquil. Yet resident Mary Darling-McCune says people she meets in other parts of Arizona think her town is a danger zone. “Oh, they are horrified that I live down here, horrified.”
She believes hundreds of U.S. Border Patrol and other federal agents help to reduce crime, but she says she also feels comfortable going to Nogales, Mexico, now and then.
“Even to be able to walk down the hill and cross over into Mexico to have lunch, which we frequently have done,” Darling-McCuneI explained. “I do not feel that I am in any grave danger.”
But some of her neighbors are more cautious. Maria Duran, who was born in Mexico and often visits family there, keeps her home on the Arizona side. “I obtained legal residence and I live here very pleasantly. It is safe,” she stated.
U.S. law enforcement officials say construction of a wall has helped them to control illegal entry and drug trafficking in the town. Most smuggling now happens in remote desert areas along the border.
But the image conveyed by the wall has had an impact on local people.
On one side of the border, in Nogales, Mexico, the economy has taken a beating because so few Americans are coming over now to make purchases at local pharmacies and stores.
A few years ago, these streets were crowded with American tourists, many of whom came to buy inexpensive medicine.
But pharmacy owner Sylvia says her business is now struggling to survive. “The business has changed a lot, sales are down,” she said. “There hasn’t been much tourism.”
She blames the economic downturn in the United States and the recent requirement that U.S. citizens crossing the border carry a passport, as well as lurid news reports about violence in Mexico. “Newspapers in the United States say there is a lot of violence in Mexico. This is a lie,” she said.
Although there have been some major crimes related to drug trafficking, she says Nogales is not like other Mexican border towns.
But while local retailers may be struggling, Nogales plays a part in what amounts to a boom in bi-national trade.
Trains hauling goods to and from Mexico cross the border several times a day, along with hundreds of trucks, representing close to $20 billion in annual two-way trade at Nogales.
And that is just part of the overall $460 billion in overall U.S.-Mexico trade that gives officials in both countries reasons to keep the border orderly and secure.