Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ranchers Split Over Border Security Plan

Associated Press
December 24, 2012
by Elliot Spagat

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — When Dan Bell drives through his 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he speaks of the hurdles that the Border Patrol faces in his rolling green hills of oak and mesquite trees — the hours it takes to drive to some places, the wilderness areas that are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles, the environmental reviews required to extend a dirt road.

John Ladd offers a different take from his 14,000-acre spread: the Border Patrol already has more than enough roads and its beefed-up presence has flooded his land and eroded the soil.

Their differences explain why ranchers are on opposite sides of the fence over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security. The Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.

The U.S. House approved the bill authored by Utah Republican Rob Bishop in June. But prospects in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate are extremely slim and chances of President Barack Obama's signature even slimmer. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified in Congress this year that the bill was unnecessary and "bad policy."

Still, an idea that House Republicans kicked around for years has advanced farther in the legislative process than ever before and rekindled discussion over how to balance border security with wildlife protection.

The debate raises some of the same questions that will play out on a larger scale when Congress and the president tackle immigration reform: Is the U.S. border with Mexico secure, considered by some lawmakers to be a litmus test for granting legal residency and citizenship to millions? Has the U.S. reached a point of border security overkill?

Heightened enforcement — along with a fewer available jobs in the U.S. and an aging population in Mexico — has brought Border Patrol arrests to 40-year lows.

The U.S. has erected 650 miles of fences and other barriers on the Mexican border, almost all of it after a 2005 law gave the Homeland Security secretary power to waive environmental reviews. The administration of President George W. Bush exercised its waiver authority on hundreds of miles after years of court challenges and environmental reviews delayed construction on a 14-mile stretch in San Diego.

The Border Patrol, which has doubled to more than 21,000 agents since 2004, has also built 12 "forward operating bases" to increase its presence in remote areas. Instead of driving long distances from their stations every shift, agents stay at the camps for several days.

Lots more needs to be done, according to backers of Bishop's bill to rewrite rules on millions of acres of federal land managed by the Interior and Agriculture departments, including more than 800 miles bordering Mexico and 1,000 miles bordering Canada. The bill would waive reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and 14 other laws in dozens of wilderness areas, national forests and national parks.

"It's a paralyzing process now," Bell, 44, said as his GMC truck barreled down a dirt road on a 10-mile stretch of his ranch that borders Mexico. "They wanted to put this road in for a decade, probably even longer. They broke ground on it last year."

Bell, a burly, third-generation rancher who leases his land from the Agriculture Department, acknowledges there are noticeably fewer border crossers since the government built a fence on the eastern part of his ranch, near Nogales. In the ranch's west end, the Border Patrol opened one of its camps in 2005 — a collection of shipping containers that agents use as a base while alternating 12-hour shifts.

Yet migrants continue crossing in some rugged reaches that are well outside of cellphone range. Bell says waiving environmental reviews within 100 miles of the border may be unnecessary but that a 25-mile zone would help immensely.

"There are areas where the agents can't get to," he said. "By the time they get out of the station and get to these remote areas, then hike another two or three hours just to get close to the border, they have to come back because their day is pretty much eaten up. It's really difficult when there's no access out there."

Ladd, a fourth-generation rancher whose spread near Douglas is in a flatter, more easily traveled area of mesquite-draped hills, thinks the Border Patrol has gone far enough. The agency installed four 80-foot camera towers on his land about six years ago. In 2007, it completed a fence along the 10.5 miles of his ranch that borders Mexico.

Rainfall that runs downhill from Mexico is stopped by debris caught in the mesh fence and an adjoining raised road, Ladd says. The water is diverted to other areas, causing floods and soil erosion on his property.

Ladd, 57, thinks the bill would allow the Border Patrol to "run roughshod" over ranches and farms.

"Be careful what you wish for, they're going to tear it up," Ladd tells other ranchers. "Once they get in, it pretty well turns into a parking lot. It's really hard to get them out."

Ladd says the 37 miles of roads on his ranch are enough for the Border Patrol's needs. "Why do you need new ones?" he asks.

The Interior Department raised concerns in a survey of Arizona's Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge last year that found nearly 8,000 miles of off-road vehicle trails, blaming much of it on smuggling and Border Patrol activity. It urged the Border Patrol to rely on tools like radars and cameras, which are less threatening to wildlife.

Critics of the Border Patrol's growth have long called new fences, roads and other infrastructure a threat to Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican grey wolves, jaguars and other border wildlife.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2010 offered fodder for both sides of the debate. It found Border Patrol supervisors generally felt land laws didn't hinder them on the job but that the agency sometimes encountered roadblocks. An unnamed agency took four months to review a Border Patrol request to move a camera tower in Arizona, by which time traffic had moved to another area.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who has led opposition to the bill that has largely split along party lines, calls the effort a disguised step toward repealing environmental laws.

"The border has become a very convenient excuse to go after laws that have been on the books for four or five decades," he said. "You plant your flag on the 100 miles (of border) and then build from there."

Bishop dismisses that criticism as a scare tactic and a "lousy argument."

"Sovereign countries control their borders. Anything that stops us from that is a violation of why we are a nation," he said.

Immigrant deaths soar in South Texas

San Antonio Express News December 30, 2012 by John MacCormack FALFURRIAS — Back in October, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney jousted about immigration issues in the second televised debate, the president made a remarkable assertion about control of the southern border.

“The flow of undocumented workers across the border is actually lower than it's been in 40 years,” he said.

And indeed, after a decade of increased enforcement that included construction of hundreds of miles of steel border wall and a doubling in size of the U.S. Border Patrol, the results are undeniable. The 327,577 people caught by the Border Patrol on the southern border in fiscal year 2011 were the fewest since 1970. And it was about one-third of the apprehensions made in 2005.

But don't try telling folks in Brooks County that things are under control. Here, apprehensions of immigrants crossing illegally, rescues of people lost in the brush and wild car chases all have increased markedly in the past couple of years. A far more tragic indicator: the death toll of those trying to sneak around the Border Patrol checkpoint south of town on U.S. 281 has risen dramatically.

By late December, the remains of 127 people had been found in the brushy ranchland around the checkpoint, nearly double last year's total and the highest anyone can remember. In 2010, 20 bodies were found.

“When you have 127 people die in your county in one year, it's too much. One body would be too much,” said County Judge Raul Ramirez, who recently ran out of space for “John Doe” burials at the county's Sacred Heart Cemetery and is looking for a new place to bury the unidentified dead.

  At Sacred Heart, their simple graves are marked with bright plastic flowers and small signs that tell what little is known, such as “skeletal remains” or “skull case” or “unknown female,” and the ranch where they were found.

Those that later are identified by DNA tests or other information are exhumed and sent back to their families, most often in Mexico or Central America.

The judge said the annual costs to his poor, rural county of dealing with illegal immigration and the unknown dead, including mortician fees and autopsies, run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. With an annual budget of about $6 million and just six full-time patrol deputies, Brooks County is ill-equipped for the task. And because it's not a border county, it receives very little state and federal aid.

“It all comes through Falfurrias. It's the No. 1 checkpoint in terms of seizures and illegal drugs,” the judge said, adding later, “I ask myself, why us?”

A busy December Already this year, one Brooks County rancher has found the remains of 16 people on his property, which straddles U.S. 281 near the checkpoint, far more than ever before.

“It's just been horrible. And there would have been a lot more deaths if the county didn't have a locator for 911 calls. Everyone has a cellphone,” said Presnall Cage, 67, whose 43,000-acre ranch is regularly traversed by large groups.

“They are coming across as bad as they ever have,” he added. “People say it's slowed down, but it doesn't seem that way to me.”

The deaths have risen markedly despite efforts by both the Border Patrol and local deputies to prevent them. The measures include hundreds of GPS markers spread around the brush that can help pinpoint 911 calls, flashing beacons that have water and panic buttons, and special Border Patrol units trained to save stranded travelers.

Although several hundred agents are stationed in Falfurrias, the vastness of the terrain and the heavy pressure from smugglers sometimes has them overmatched. All told, more than 2,600 agents work in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, trailing only El Paso and Tucson.

“What you're seeing now is the busiest this checkpoint has been since I came to this sector in 1995,” said Enrique Mendiola, a Border Patrol spokesman, who said that this year, the traditional winter lull never happened.

According to a large sign at the checkpoint, 36,075 pounds of drugs have been seized and 3,781 undocumented people have been apprehended here since Oct. 1.

While the Border Patrol does not release statistics for individual checkpoints, the December apprehensions of illegal immigrants here were more than double those of last December, according to unofficial sources.

The latest official statistics for the Rio Grande Valley Sector, which includes Falfurrias, show apprehensions surged by more than 60 percent from 2011 to 2012 for comparable 10-month periods, according to Mendiola. No one has a good explanation for why Brooks County is such a hot spot, and nothing as dramatic is happening around other South Texas checkpoints in Kenedy, Jim Hogg and Webb Counties.

  “If we knew why, we'd go after it,” said Mendiola, who thinks that the construction of the steel border fence in the eastern half of the Rio Grande Valley has pushed most illegal activity westward toward U.S. 281.

“You used to have one organization running drugs, another running people. That was all we knew,” he said. “Now we have transnational criminal organizations and it's a multi-commodity business.”

Chief Sheriff's Deputy Benny Martinez sees other factors. “In my opinion, it has to do with the enforcement in Arizona. They're shifting back to Texas,” he said of the human smugglers. “We're already had 250 to 300 rescues this year, either from cellphone calls or people we find in the brush. It's way more than in the past,” he said.

  In southern Arizona, another recent hot spot for illegal immigration, immigrant deaths peaked in 2010 at 252, forcing the medical examiner to hold bodies awaiting autopsies in refrigerated trucks. This year, the total likely will be below 160.

In Brooks County, encounters between smugglers and the law are becoming more frequent and more dangerous.

  “They're getting aggressive, in the way they are driving and the methods they use to get away. And once they are apprehended, they fight back,” sheriff's Investigator Danny Davila said. “We had one last week,” he continued. “We tried to pull him over, but he went through a ranch, fence line after fence line, until he came to another paved road, and then he was gone.”

“We couldn't stay with him because it was starting to get dark and we had lost sight of him,” he added. “It was not safe.”

Most of the illegal immigrant traffic seems to be headed for Houston, and Davila thinks that large criminal organizations in Mexico working with associates in that city have chosen U.S. 281 as their smuggling corridor.

“This is the path of least resistance. We're knocking down maybe 10 percent of what's going through the county. The volume has gotten phenomenal,” he said.

Deadly consequences

Much of the illegal traffic that goes northward through Brooks County follows backcountry roads into Duval County. There, similar chases occur daily, and often with the same result, an SUV crashing through fence lines into the brush.

“They never pull over. We get three to four bailouts on a good day. And for every bailout, maybe five others get through,” said Jose Martinez, chief deputy in Duval County. “We've already confiscated 325 cars this year from bailouts. We caught people in about fifty of those vehicles, but we hardly ever catch the driver,” he added.

The consequences for the human cargo often are deadly.

In April, nine people died near Palmview in the Valley when Border Patrol agents attempted to stop a minivan soon after it left a stash house. Eighteen illegal immigrants were in the van, driven by a 15-year-old, when it rolled over.

In May, a high-speed early-morning chase in Kleberg County that went through fenced ranchland ended with a man having his leg severed. The man, who never was identified, died of blood loss at the scene.

In October, two Guatemalans were killed after a DPS sharpshooter in a helicopter fired on a fleeing pickup that was carrying illegal immigrants near La Joya. The much criticized shooting still is being reviewed.

Unaccompanied children

During an eight-hour stretch one day earlier this month, in which reporters accompanied Border Patrol agents and Brooks County sheriff's deputies on calls around the county, the action was heavy. The day included a 300-pound marijuana bust and two arrests following a short car chase.

There were a total of three high-speed car chases. One involved a pickup carrying eight people that careened through a hotel parking lot before being abandoned. Finally, there was the discovery of a large group of men, women and children wandering aimlessly in the brush miles off U.S. 281. After being loaded into a white van, half the group of hungry, dirty people was taken to Border Patrol headquarters in Falfurrias to be processed. Most were Central Americans, who now make up a large percentage of those caught.

Among them were eight women and three children younger than age 12, including a Honduran girl, 11, who was traveling alone.

Humberto Martinez Vasquez Guzman, 18, from Guatemala, had come with his young wife, Silva Elena, in hopes of reaching relatives in Kentucky. He said they each had paid $6,500 to smugglers for the trip, only to be abandoned in South Texas, far short of their destination.

“We crossed the river at McAllen on Saturday, and on Monday night they brought us up here. They dropped us by the highway and left. We were walking three days in the brush without food,” he said on a recent day, the picture of complete defeat.

  Martinez said an earthquake that destroyed much of the housing in his hometown, Aldea San Marcos, near the Mexican border, had pushed him to attempt the perilous journey that had just ended so badly. “I've got to ask for help to avoid being returned. God knows I'm not lying,” he said.

But, Mendiola said, there was little likelihood of any of them staying in the United States. And despite his many years of dealing with similar unhappy endings, the veteran Border Patrol agent was moved to comment about the unaccompanied young girl.

“It's a sad thing to have an 11-year-old here like this,” he said of a slim child in a black T-shirt. “At her age,” he added, “I wouldn't even let my kid go three blocks, and these people are coming through three countries.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

Artists brighten up U.S.-Mexico border fence

Los Angeles Times December 23, 2012 by Cindy Carcamo BISBEE, Ariz. — They can't tear it down, so they decided to do the next best thing. They painted it. For nearly a year, a contingent of artists from southeastern Arizona has joined forces with Mexican children to paint portions of the 650 miles of border fence separating the United States and Mexico. Some see the border wall as an obstruction, a political symbol of the chasm between two nations. Others view it as the first line in protection for the nation. These artists, who call themselves the Border Bedazzlers, view the barrier that snakes across the Sonoran Desert as a blank canvas. So far, a collection of artists, children, a minister and musician turned 30 panels of rusted metal border wall into murals featuring rainbows, hearts and brilliant landscapes alongside declarations of friendship and peace. They've colored only about a mile of the wall. Still, Bisbee artists Gretchen Baer and Carolyn Toronto say the effort has a profound result — building community between two nations that share a contentious and anxious relationship, fueled by calls to fortify the border from a raging drug war and mass migration. "The wall that was built to keep us apart is bringing us together," Baer said of the four painting sessions they've held at the Mexican side of the fence in Naco, which abuts an Arizona town with the same name. She hopes others who live along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico frontier will notice and take a paint brush to their local border wall, too. "The goal is to just keep it going as long as we can," Baer said, driving to Naco on a recent day. Cans of paint bounced in the trunk of her car as she negotiated the desert highway, whizzing by green-and-white Border Patrol vehicles on the watch. "There are hundreds of miles of border wall, which is like hundreds of miles of empty canvas," she said. The idea came to Baer two years ago. The 49-year-old native of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, a 20-year resident of the eclectic desert town of Old Bisbee, is known for vibrant oil paintings. Baer thought it would be a good idea to bring art to what she called an ugly border wall. She created a couple of dozen shirts inscribed with the name Border Bedazzlers, but the effort didn't get off the ground until this year. This spring, Toronto teamed up with Seth Polley, minister for St. John's Episcopal Church in Bisbee, to paint one panel of the border fence in Naco, Mexico. He provided the paint, she the manpower. The result is an image of two doves lifting up the Mexican and American flags, revealing a sunny desert road that appears to split the fence, toward a grinning sun. "Wow, I have a lot of paint left over," Toronto told Baer after the project. "Let's keep doing it." Monday was Baer's fourth painting trip to Naco. She's famous in Bisbee for her 1989 Toyota that serves as an artistic shrine to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Baer's a fan, she explained, as she pulled up to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Naco, Ariz. A U.S. customs agent eyed the decked-out ride. Splashes of yellow and sky blue drape the sedan. Glued-on seashells and rhinestone-like gems frame a stylized portrait of Clinton's face on the hood. "What are you going to do on the other side?" the agent asked. "We're working on a painting project," she replied. "On your car?" the agent asked. "No," Baer said, chuckling slightly. The agent waved her through. A bit after 3 p.m., six Bisbee artists doused the wall with blue, yellow and red. Slowly, local children joined in. A couple of newbies approached, timidly asking for a brush. The regulars asked for specific colors. An hour later, the weathered and pock-marked steel barrier was transformed into a multicolored backdrop for children at play. For a few hours, the local children forgot they were next to a wall that's intended to keep them out, Baer said. "It's just a big jungle gym for them," she said. At times, Baer and the other adults have to remind the children not to try to crawl through holes under the fence — probably dug by border crossers — or to climb above the wall when they get carried away with play. "We're thumbing our noses at this structure of exclusivity, anxiety and corruption of governments that can't work out this situation for their people," Toronto said. Most of the kids, however, see it as an opportunity to play and paint on a gigantic space. "I just like to paint," said Damian Villa, 15. He crafted a large leaf in the shape of an infinity sign. The Bedazzlers chose to paint only in Mexico, bypassing the bureaucratic hurdles they'd likely encounter to paint on the U.S side of the wall. The Mexican government doesn't seem to mind, and the community likes the murals, said Maria Elena Borquez, who heads the Naco museum and invites neighborhood children to paint. Toronto motioned to three men curiously looking on, telling them in choppy Spanish to come on over and paint. They said they would if they weren't on a brief break from their Mexican customs job at the border. Still, Martin Eduardo Ortiz liked what the painters were doing. "This goes to show … not all Americans think badly of Mexico and Mexicans… that they're not all afraid to come here," he said. "There's also the perception that Americans treat Mexicans badly. To the contrary. Not all Americans are bad, there are good people. Look, they come here and paint." Earlier this year, Toronto traveled to Europe, where she gazed at an 8-foot concrete remnant of the Berlin Wall. "Things do change," she recalled thinking. "People thought this was a wall that would never go away." Toronto believes she'll be around when the U.S.-Mexico fence falls. When it does, she says, she'll sell each panel for $1,000 a pop. And donate the money to charity.,0,72498.story

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cans of pot launched over Mexico-Arizona border fence

USA Today
December 12, 2012
by Domenico Nicosia

Thirty-three marijuana-filled cans were found on the Arizona side of the Mexican border, apparently shot over the fence with an air-pressured cannon.

Weighing about 2-1/2 pounds each, the cans were found late last week scattered in a field here near the Colorado River, U.S. Border Patrol officials said Tuesday. The almost 85 pounds of contents were estimated to be worth $43,000.

Border officials said they believe that pneumatic cannons — similar to the guns that launch T-shirts and other items during sporting events — were used to shoot the cans about 500 feet over the border fence after drug smugglers had crossed the river. A carbon dioxide tank also was found in the area.

The find was "another unique but unsuccessful attempt" to smuggle drugs into the U.S., officials said. Smugglers try to come up with ways to counter authorities as border officials disrupt drug-smuggling patterns.

Mexican authorities also are looking into the incident.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Arizona border agent arrested for alleged on-duty drug smuggling

Chicago Tribune / Reuters
December 4, 2012
by David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been arrested after he was spotted accepting bundles of marijuana from a suspected Mexican smuggler at an international border fence in Arizona, authorities said on Tuesday.

Aaron Anaya, 25, was taken into custody early on Monday by federal agents who seized 147 pounds (66.6 kg) of marijuana inside three duffle bags from his border patrol vehicle, authorities said in a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
Anaya, a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2010, was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and firearm possession during a drug trafficking offense, according to the criminal complaint. Anaya had his service weapon with him at the time.

The controlled substance count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the firearms count is punishable by up to 5 years behind bars.

Anaya's federal public defender could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Stephen Martin, the Border Patrol's sector chief for Yuma, Arizona, said the agency was "sorely disappointed by the alleged conduct of one of our own."

"I appreciate the efforts by our law enforcement partners and our own agents to uncover those that violate their oath of office, and hold them accountable for their actions," Martin said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Anaya was arrested by agents from the FBI-led Southwest Border Corruption Task Force who were conducting surveillance with the help of aircraft in an area between Yuma and Wellton, about 185 miles southwest of Phoenix.

According to a probable cause statement filed with the complaint, agents say they watched as Anaya stopped his patrol vehicle along the border and picked up bales of marijuana tossed over the fence into Arizona from a man on Mexican side.

Anaya was then seen by the agents placing the load into his vehicle before he continued patrolling, the probable cause document said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that 129 agents were arrested on corruption charges from 2003 to 2009.,0,2545413.story

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Effort to Secure Border Crimps Commerce Along It

New York Times
December 1, 2012
by Fernanda Santos

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — When the copper smelters closed, the jobs dried up and the people who used to sustain the small shops along this border city’s commercial strips left to find work elsewhere, the Ortega family looked toward the neighbor to the south, Agua Prieta, Mexico, for a new clientele.

For decades, catering to Mexicans had been a reliable business plan for the Ortegas and many other store owners here, a multigenerational band of believers who have been around too long to give up. But the tight border enforcement prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks — and amplified by the harsh realities and language of drug violence and illegal immigration — gradually made it harder to get across the border legally, then too much of a bother, and finally a discomfiting waste of time.
Like the copper smelter workers, the Mexicans, little by little, also began to disappear.
An unforgiving blow came about two years ago, when the American government stopped issuing visas in Agua Prieta, forcing whoever wanted them to travel 115 miles to Nogales, a costly undertaking for Mexicans relying on lean monthly salaries to survive.
“I understand the need for securing our border,” said Bill Thomas, 64, who runs Thomas Home Furnishings, a store his father founded 59 years ago, 11 blocks from a port of entry now so fortified and congested that the city had to build a road to steer the lines of idling cars waiting to get across away from local streets. “But what we’ve done is, we’ve shut out the honest guy.”
The feeling is the same along much of the Mexican border in Arizona, where an imposing wall of corrugated steel disconnects main streets, shared histories and binational family ties. It has also begun to seep deeper, among business owners and elected officials inside a state known for its iron-fisted approach to illegal immigration.
The Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau has been running a media campaign in the Mexican border state of Sonora and its neighbor to the south, Sinaloa, to dispel any notions that Arizona is unwelcoming.
(After Arizona passed its strict immigration law in 2010, the Mexican government issued a warning to its citizens, telling them to assume that they could be “harassed and questioned” in Arizona “at any time.”)
On Nov. 16, Tucson’s mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, made his first official trip to Nogales, Mexico, to visit a port of entry that is under expansion and for which he has lobbied for an increase in staffing. At a meeting in October, mayors in the economic development committee at the Maricopa Association of Governments, a regional planning group based in Phoenix, embraced a unifying slogan: “We’re all border communities.”
“Mexicans spend about $2 billion a year in Arizona,” said the committee’s chairman, Thomas L. Schoaf, the mayor of Litchfield Park, a suburb of Phoenix. “They go to the Biltmore” Fashion Park, an upscale mall in Phoenix, and “they go to Flagstaff.”
About 21 million Mexicans cross legally into Arizona every year, Mr. Schoaf said; in Santa Cruz County, which runs along the border, their spending accounts for 40 percent of the sales tax revenue. “A significant part of our economic vitality is related to people who cross the border,” Mr. Schoaf said, “so we need to make the crossing more efficient.”
Erik Lee, the associate director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, said old infrastructure and inadequate staffing were largely to blame for the costly and unpredictably long waits at border crossings. While the number of Border Patrol agents has virtually doubled since 2004, to 23,306 from 11,684, the number of customs inspectors, who operate the ports of entry, increased by only 12 percent, to 21,893 from 19,525, according to federal statistics.
On average, it took 66 minutes to cross the border from Nogales, Mexico, to Nogales, Ariz., in 2008, costing the regional economy about $200 million, according to estimates compiled by Mr. Lee and Christopher E. Wilson of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Projections by the Commerce Department say the average time to get through ports of entry into the United States will rise to 99 minutes by 2017, a delay the department estimates could cost a total of $12 billion for the economies on the two sides.
Looking at his electronic ledger, Josué Lopez, who runs Casa Enrique Uniforms here, a store that his father, who was born in Agua Prieta, bought 39 years ago, said, “There’s a lot of money being lost in the name of security.”
His business depends heavily on Mexican customers: schools require uniforms, which Mr. Lopez sells, along with the uniforms used by many of the factory and medical workers on the other side of the border. Things were going well until three years ago, he said, but then a lot of his customers stopped coming as their visas expired.
In 2010, sales were down 23 percent, and though there was a small recovery last year, he said it was only because “we slimmed down the business and started focusing on the top products that we knew would move.”
In March, voters in this city of barely 18,000 residents elected Danny Ortega Jr., a third-generation Ortega running the family’s shoe and clothing stores, as mayor. He was “someone we thought could understand what we’re going through,” Mr. Lopez said.
Mr. Ortega, 50, took office in June, bent on finding a lifesaver for his and Douglas’s future. He hired a consultant from Phoenix to push the federal government for changes: an extra southbound lane at the border crossing, which opened on Nov. 16, and a dedicated lane for prescreened drivers and pedestrians, which has yet to happen.
“Let’s not be so regimented and look at every person coming in from Mexico as someone who’s going to commit a crime,” said Mr. Ortega, who left I.B.M. after 23 years to help his father and siblings run the family business. “Our financial sustainability is dependent on them.”
He hired a bilingual city manager, and he has reached out to the mayor of Agua Prieta, Irma Villalobos Terán, to figure out ways to cooperate, regardless of federal policies beyond their control.
They also joined a meeting in October hosted by the Mexican consul in Douglas, Oscar Antonio de la Torre Amezcua, to discuss ways to promote shopping tourism on both sides of the border.
“We either help ourselves,” Mr. Ortega said, “or we will die.”