The border fence from Nogales, Sonora (photo by Ali Noorani)

*My somewhat regular note on all, okay, some, things immigration. Click here to subscribe to the daily Noorani’s Notes.

Last time I came to the border, the rust-colored steel bollards cut a stark line through the hills. Today, as I sit in a McDonald’s, five minutes from the Nogales border port of entry, the bollards are topped with holiday tinsel.

Oh … wait … that’s concertina wire. My bad.

Nogales, Sonora, a bustling city of approximately 232,000 people, is economically tied to the smaller Nogales, AZ (population 20,000). According to Arizona-Mexico Economic Indicators, the maquiladora sector in Nogales, Sonora, is about 34,000 jobs strong with three industry sectors accounting for more than 50% of all employment. Those goods are shipped, via train and truck, through the Nogales port of entry.

In 2017, the Nogales port accounted for 86% of Arizona’s exports to Mexico, 87% of all imports from Mexico, 94% of imported Mexican fresh produce, and 84% of all northbound truck crossings.

Just as important as trade, the smaller Nogales depends on cross-border foot traffic from Mexico, coming to purchase goods. But, as Cecilia Balli reported for the NYT last February, “Annual pedestrian crossings into Nogales, Ariz., have dropped to 2.7 million from 7.7 million in the past 10 years.” More recent data show that the average number of vehicles crossing between July to September 2018 was down 4.1% over the previous three months, down 1.8% from a year ago.

Residents of Nogales, Sonora, wait for the bus in dueling shadows of Coca-Cola Zero and the fence. (photo by Ali Noorani)

And the average number persons crossing the border from July to September 2018 was down 3.5% from the average for the previous three months, down 1.8% from a year ago.

On Sunday, I crossed the border and spent the afternoon walking through Nogales, Mexico. People were out shopping, and nearly every corner had a crowded food stand. As I walked west, over the hills through neighborhood streets, tall fences and big dogs gave way to a small baseball stadium where a lively game was underway.

(To my untrained eye, Joe, there weren’t any prospects.)

My point here is that if the border stymies trade and commerce, both sides of Nogales will suffer. On the Mexican side, a thriving economy helps workers and families avoid the cartels. And, with Arizona’s economy so closely tied to trade with Mexico, updating ports of entry is the border crisis that needs to be addressed.

All to say, instead of funding walls, we should be funding overwhelmed ports of entry.

Particularly when tunnels are underneath Nogales’s walls and El Chapo’s colleagues are testifying that most drugs are smuggled in, “Trains, tractor-trailers and ordinary cars that come into the country at legal ports of entry.”

These are the facts on the ground.

San Xavier Mission … on the drive from Nogales to Tucson. (photo by Ali Noorani)

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum and America is Better, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, host of the podcast, Only in America.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum and America is Better, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, host of the podcast, Only in America.