Border fence

The U.S. Army has affixed rows of razor wire to the border wall separating Nogales, Arizona, from its larger sister city in Sonora.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

It is difficult to watch as border communities such as Nogales continue to decline in population while the state’s overall population booms, swelling in areas such as Phoenix and even Buckeye.

Yuma is an exception, but that community has a military base as well as flourishing agriculture and therefore is not dependent on cross-trade to Mexico from tourists going south and Mexican citizens going north to shop as are border towns like Nogales.

The once-flourishing mercantile industry in Nogales continues to suffer as fewer shoppers from Mexico brave the challenges of crossing the border. Since this situation is unlikely to change in the near future, there are no incentives for industries to invest in Santa Cruz County or the city of Nogales. The port of entry through which trade with Mexico enters the U.S. continues to open only the same entry lanes or even fewer than before its expansion, causing longer traffic lines and unreasonable waits to enter the country.

This situation makes it less likely for those from Mexico to cross the border and contribute to the local economy and for Americans to who would otherwise cross into Mexico now concerned about getting back across the line.

Long rolls of concertina wire deface the border wall, sending a discouraging message to American tourists and those who once entered this area to cross for dental and cheaper medicine needs. The unnecessary barbed covering provides a negative perception of Nogales itself, proclaiming it is unsafe and infested by illegal activity. This is most certainly not a real representation of our community; what is real is that the image generated will continue to decrease Nogales’ population and drive people away, thus increasing the unemployment rates for years to come.

Ironically, Nogales is one of the safest cities in the state with an exceptionally low crime rate. Nogales had 22 violent crimes per 10,000 residents in 2017, according to the FBI statistics, far below those of similar small communities and a fraction of violent crime rates in larger metro areas.

It is heartbreaking to continue to see this community’s decline happening with no economic development plan in place.

What will become of Nogales, with young people moving away and residents fleeing to work even in minimum-wage jobs? What will become of the dwindling merchants still here as fewer Mexican shoppers cross to purchase at local businesses? These factors impact city sales tax revenues, and in turn, the upkeep of the city itself.

These are not the only negative factors causing concerns for the community. Recent state and federal political decisions and mandates will impose greater hardships.

The Tomato Suspension Agreement, imposing a 17.5% tariff on Mexican tomato imports, and more recently the president’s calling for a 5% tariff on Mexican imports, gradually increasing to 25%, are two recent examples. After generating much angst, Trump reversed the latest tariff threat, but who knows when he will reinstate it if he does not get his way?

What an uncaring nation does not realize when reading or hearing about what is happening in areas such as Nogales is that these changes and threats affect their wallets, their lifestyles and their well-being. That reality needs to be exposed.

We who call this area home are not the only ones who should be concerned, and there needs to be a sense of urgency statewide as Nogales and other small border communities suffer the fallout.

Fernando Parra is superintendent of the Nogales Unified School District.