As a member of the Nogales and Rio Rico communities for 51 years, I am extremely disappointed at the images of division generated by fencing with multiple rolls of razor wire added to the barriers. These pictures have been blasted in national and social media. It is very discouraging that these images are being used politically to define Nogales. More discouraging is that there are those who have never been here negatively interpreting who we are as a people and as a community based on relentless false broadcasting of how dangerous and porous our border area is.
Over the years I have seen how our community has been divided in many ways by people who feel threatened by cultures that have flourished for decades. More concerning is that we now have empowered leaders driven by political agendas and ignorance who believe that investing in building bigger walls will keep America safe. The City of Nogales is already one of the safest in the United States. We have hundreds of law enforcement agents in our community and safety is something we all enjoy and many times take for granted. Yet, this is not what is presented to the nation and the world.
The reality is that a high percentage of illegal substances and human trafficking comes directly through the port of entry and therefore will not be deterred by an even higher barrier. Investment in technology and other practical and common-sense approaches directly affecting the port of entry is what should be prioritized.
The growing tragedy is the ongoing verbiage by those who have no concern for those affected and the sad fact is that it is easy for people to believe if they are bombarded by the same verbiage over and over regardless of the truth. The further from the border they are, the easier it is to believe falsehoods about the “dangerous” southern border. The end result is devastating as Santa Cruz County continues to lose economically in comparison to other border towns where the same demographics, socio-economic status and diverse population exist without the negative focus.
While billions of dollars go through our port of entry every day, our county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and nation with ever-declining economic stability. Local businesses are closing and fewer are investing in the community. School enrollment has declined significantly due to families leaving for many factors, but top on the list are immigration obstacles and lack of employment. If this continues, Nogales will eventually turn into a ghost town and it will become nothing much more than a crossing site for commercial use.
Images such as what is happening with the border infrastructure will continue to keep investors from advancing economic development and opportunities. It will affect all areas of what was once a thriving economy, including a very successful produce industry and a border shopping district.
Nogales and surrounding communities should be known for their friendly, hardworking people; for being a safe place to live; for having great schools county wide; and for being enriched with a diverse culture that provides people with the luxury to be bilingual and bi-literate if they desire. They should not be defined by images of the border fencing that continue to invade the national media. It most certainly is not what the community is or the only factor that should be used to define it. Anyone visiting the border will only see long lines of people and vehicles crossing the border legally heading north and others crossing south to Mexico for doctor and dentist visits and affordable medicine.
Those of us who have made this area home know it is still a privilege to live in this unique community. It is our responsibility to counter the negativity that threatens to devour that reality.
(Parra is superintendent of the Nogales Unified School District.)