In Ciudad Juarez, where extensive fencing was erected by the US to secure the border between 2007 and 2010, residents have a more nuanced view of what a wall can mean. They say the fence has both caused and relieved problems in the city and nearby areas.
Frank Jack Daniel –
Mexicans say they oppose the wall US President-elect Donald Trump has promised to build along their northern border.
But in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, where extensive fencing was erected by the United States to secure the border between 2007 and 2010, residents have a more nuanced view of what a wall can mean. They say the Juarez fence has both caused and relieved problems in the city and nearby areas.
Some say the barrier has made life in Juarez better, diverting drug and human traffickers to more remote spots where crossing the border is easier. Others say the high fence bred a new kind of crime in the city, encouraging drug dealers who find it harder to get wares across the border to divert some of their product to expanding and serving a local market.
Juarez’s newly elected mayor, Armando Cabada, sees both sides. He says the fencing, cameras, sensors and stricter controls on border bridges have stopped flagrant crossings of undocumented Mexican migrants into downtown El Paso, Texas, which sits just across the fortified border, in sight of his wood-panelled office.
On balance, however, the negatives have outweighed the positives, he says. He notes that shortly after the wall was built, Juarez was plunged into a hellish war between cartels that made it the murder capital of the world, while El Paso remained the safest US city of its size.
After the border got tighter, Cabada said, “The narco traffickers had to battle much harder to cross their drugs into the United States, and a lot ended up staying here.”
The city of 1.4 million saw murders rise from 336 in 2007 when work on the fence began, to 3,057 in 2010 when the work was mostly concluded. Only two people were murdered in El Paso in 2010, down from eight in 2006.
Last year, murders were back below 2007 levels and normal life has begun to return, but strong demand for methamphetamines in Juarez has triggered a local turf battle and a new spike in violence, Cabada and city security officials said.
Drug use in Juarez is among the highest in Mexico, government health surveys show.
A poll conducted in May by Baselice & Associates Inc for Cronkite News and other media groups spoke to 1,500 people in 14 border cities in Mexico and the United States. It found 72 per cent of respondents on the US side and 86 per cent on the Mexican side were opposed to building a wall.
Esteban Sabedra, a factory worker living in working class Anapra, on the western fringe of Juarez, is among the minority of Mexicans who would like to see more secure fencing.
Sabedra’s home is a city block away from a rusting, low wire fence in place since the 1980s separating Juarez and El Paso, that the US Customs and Border Protection is now replacing with 1.3 miles of 15-foot-high steel bollard barricade.
He welcomes the new structure, saying he hopes it will deter human and drug traffickers who currently ply the neighbourhood and intimidate residents.
Indeed, experts say fencing around El Paso is one of the factors behind a sharp drop in US border guard apprehensions in the sector, to 14,495 last year from 122,256 in 2006, a drop partially attributed to illegal migrants shifting routes to less protected stretches of border.
Migrant flows are a fraction of what they were in the sector largely because of the greatly increased security presence including the fencing and a near doubling of border agents, the Washington Office on Latin America rights group said in an October report.
Ciudad Juarez’s public prosecutor, Jorge Arnaldo Nava López, blames the El Paso fencing for contributing to a sharp uptick in crime along a fertile strip through the desert known as Valle de Juarez.
The crime spike has been particularly acute where the barrier ends near Guadalupe municipality. — Reuters