NACO, Ariz. — Sonia Urcadez woke up one October morning to the sound of cement trucks lining the street in front of her house, kicking up clouds of dust that obscured the sunrise and her view of the San José Mountains.
It was 6 a.m., and 100 feet from her house, construction on a new border fence had just begun.
The U.S. Border Patrol announced in January that the section of border fence in Naco, some 100 miles southeast of Tucson, will be replaced with a more modern barrier by June. That announcement was months overdue for the residents of Naco, who had been living with the disruptive construction since October. Cement trucks and construction workers had been coming and going seven days a week as they prepared the work site for the removal of the old fence and the construction of the new one in the border town.
Nobody living near the construction — or in the community itself — had been asked or even told that the new fence was going to happen. The construction recently began on property owned by Gerry Eberwein, a local police officer.
“The only time I was told anything about it was the day after they had already built the cement factory,” Urcadez said. Eberwein, she said, “told me that if anything bothered me, to let him know.
“And I kind of just really rolled my eyes. Are you going to mute the machines? Are you going to come dust my house? I mean, really, what can he do?”
In Naco, the border currently has a system of two fences with a road in between — a remnant of an older system of fencing that recycled runway material from the Vietnam War as a barrier against crossing. There have been barriers on the border for decades, but the last 10 years have seen an increase .
People in Naco like Urcadez remember a time when there wasn’t a fence, when the Border Patrol had less of a presence. Crossers could come and go more or less as they pleased. That changed after 9/11.
Nogales, only a couple dozen miles away, serves as an example of the unforeseen consequences that can arise as a result of the fence replacement. It, too, had the older style of fencing, which was replaced years ago with the new model of 20-foot steel fence.
But Nogales is a port of entry for commerce flowing in and out of the United States.
It is one of the largest in the country and the preferred entry point for most of the U.S. produce imports that arrive by truck. This has transformed the city into a packing and distribution center with a massive multi-lane port of entry.
Naco isn’t so lucky. The port there is desolate, more akin to an abandoned military checkpoint than a commercial land port. There is barely a trickle of travelers walking over.
This traffic drought has had devastating effects on the businesses and residents of the small border town.
The main street that ran through the center of town all the way to the border, Towner Avenue, once was lined with an auto shop, restaurant, coffee shop, grocery store and clothing store that catered to crossers and residents.
That was before the port of entry was moved about 100 yards east of the end of Towner — where it had been for decades.
“It killed Naco,” former auto shop owner Ernest Rogers said.
“There used to be four or five businesses and it was a straight shot across the border. Now there aren’t any.”
Rogers claims the movement came as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as the port would be easier for trucks to enter and exit from a point farther away from Towner Avenue.
Those trucks never materialized in Naco, preferring to go through nearby Douglas.
Now, the only trucks coming through Naco are full of cement and construction supplies for the replacement of the wall section. The construction comes on the heels of President Trump’s decision to build a new border wall between the United States and Mexico.
“It’s a big open world out there, you know,” Larry Slaughter, a mechanic and Naco resident, said.
“People that want to get across will get across, I don’t know how they could ever really clamp it down. We got the Berlin Wall torn down, why build another one?”