It is difficult to watch as border communities such as Nogales continue to decline in population while the state's population booms.

According to a recent article in the Arizona Republic, "In recent years, Phoenix has added more people than any city in the country. Buckeye is the fastest-growing city in the nation.” But while the population of Arizona and many of its cities swells, small border towns are shrinking. The only exception is Yuma, already the state's largest border city, which grew about 7.2 percent in the past eight years. (See: “These Arizona cities and towns are shrinking, even as state population booms,” Arizona Republic, June 3.)

In Yuma’s case, their commerce is flourishing while Nogales continues to suffer economically, resulting in high unemployment rates that can approach double digits during the off-season for Mexican produce. (Even with this seasonal fluctuation, the local produce industry is still one of the biggest local employers, along with government agencies/multiple law enforcement agencies and the local school district.) 

Small businesses and the once-flourishing mercantile industry continue to suffer as the local population decreases and 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 United States continues to open only the same entry lanes – or even fewer – as it did before its expansion, causing longer traffic lines and unreasonable waits to enter the country. This situation makes it less likely for shoppers or visitors to cross the border and contribute to the local economy. After all, who wants to wait hours to cross to shop for non-essentials?

The border wall is defaced with long rolls of concertina wire, sending a discouraging message to American tourists who use this area to cross the border for cheaper dental and medical services. 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.

Please keep in mind that Nogales is one of the safest cities in the state, with an exceptionally noteworthy low crime rate. The Arizona Republic story reported that Nogales had 22 violent crimes per 10,000 residents in 2017, according to FBI statistics. That was far below the rates of similar small communities and a fraction of violent crime rates in larger metro areas.

It is disappointing to see the population continuing to decline with no industrial or economic development plan in place. What will become of Nogales, with the young people moving away, long-time residents going into other communities that offer services as they age, and people fleeing simply 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 and more just using this border town for passage to get to Tucson and Phoenix?

In addition to a decline in the overall economy, 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 bring greater negativity to this area. The U.S. government’s decision to pull out of the Tomato Suspension Agreement and impose a 17.5-percent tariff on Mexican tomato imports, and more recently, President Trump’s calling for a 5-percent tariff on Mexican imports, gradually increasing to 25 percent, are critical factors that will add burden to the current economic situation. 

What an uncaring nation does not realize when reading or hearing about what is happening in areas such as Nogales is that these changes will affect their wallets, their lifestyles and their well-being. That reality needs to be exposed. We who call this area home need to be concerned and there needs to be a sense of urgency within our community as we experience the fallout.

(Parra is superintendent of the Nogales Unified School District.)

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