An open dirt street is all that marked the U.S.-Mexico line in June 1890. That's Nogales, Sonora, on the left, and Nogales, Ariz., on the right, similar to the situation that existed between Douglas and Agua Prieta, Sonora. The informal divisions are long gone, replaced today with imposing barriers.


Like so many border cities, Douglas and Agua Prieta used to be one community. A physical and political line divided them, but it didn't get in the way of daily interactions.

Coming and going between the two cities was "like walking across the street," said Ray Borane, a Douglas native and former mayor.

But stronger enforcement in both directions has made crossing the border, legally or illegally, tougher than ever. For the thousands of families living on both sides of the line, the hardening of the border after the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks and the recent increase in southbound inspections has made once-simple social interactions difficult.

And for those who don't have family in Mexico, trips that used to be made on a whim are now made only if someone has an urgent need to cross - or plenty of time to spare.

In addition to the long lines, some Mexicans are offended by the intense line of questioning at the ports of entry or by suspicions cast on them by cops in the U.S.

"I don't think it's ever going back to what it was," said Juan Valente Rivera, historian for the city of Agua Prieta. "A lot has been lost."


Part three of a five-part series exploring changes on the U.S.-Mexico border.

• The Wall then:The fence has been used as a volleyball net and has been removed so horses could race along the border. Page A12

• The Wall Now: Even planning ahead, it can take two hours or more to cross the border at Douglas - and you still might be late. Page A12

On StarNet: Brady McCombs will chat online with readers about the series at noon Thursday.

Set a reminder and read the whole series at