Longform

Pressure Point

Page 3 of 7

"We knew when we pushed them away from the cities, in a few years the word would get around that it was too difficult to cross there, and they would head toward Arizona."
So, in Border Patrol lexicon, while the Hold-the-Line-induced Balloon Effect is easing the Melting Factor, Arizona gets stuck with its very own Battle of the Bulge.

According to Austin, however, this is supposed to be a temporary state of affairs. The Border Patrol's action plan called for the speedy reallocation of manpower to places like Nogales, as soon as the area started experiencing a markedly heavier flow of illegals.

"We knew it would be rough on the Arizona border for a while," he says, "but as we conceived it, help would soon arrive. You all will just have to hang in there for a bit until it does."
Somewhere between the crafting of this border-control policy and its final implementation, however, an ugly reality--politics--intervened. The cavalry isn't coming to the rescue as the Border Patrol initially planned.

As a result, citizens of Nogales, and the Border Patrol agents assigned to protect them, are left doing what Austin recommends--hanging on.

Barely.
@rule:
@body:Nathan Gonzalez works in a small grocery on a side street in Nogales, just a block or two north of the border. As he sweeps the dust from the sidewalk in front of the store, he points with his broom to the spot on the chipped concrete where, one night about two months ago, he lay dying.

"They came up from behind me, real quiet," he remembers. "And then, bam! They whacked me over the head with a bat or something.

"Cracked my skull," Gonzalez notes ruefully, rubbing his scalp. "I bled and bled. And if my wife hadn't come looking for me, I would have bled to death."
The attackers cleaned out the store's cash register and took Gonzalez's wallet--which was recovered the next day, sans $50, lying in a street on the other side of the border.

"My story ain't nothing special," he says, shaking his head. "Shit happens to everybody."
Especially in Nogales. It seems as though nearly every resident has a story to tell about violent crime--which is up by 40 percent over last year. Burglaries are up 21 percent, theft 19 percent.

The Nogales International, the twice-weekly newspaper serving the American city of 20,000, runs a police log featuring a big black box listing such percentages, in order to keep the crime issue in the forefront of civic debate. But one figure no one needs to be reminded of is that, according to city police, 90 percent of the crime is committed by illegal aliens.

You don't have to look farther than over the border fence to figure out why.
The Mexican side of Nogales, with a population hovering somewhere around 350,000, is a study in chaos, an abstract painting of a city composed of tattered fences, mounds of trash and streams of murky-looking drainage flowing through the streets. A city of corrugated metal shacks, lean-tos and colorful laundry flapping in the dusty breeze--that frequently blows up and down the town's many hills and into the shattered rock gullies, which transverse the city north to south.

This desolate urban border is a fault line where two economic worlds grind against one another. Forget about the bustling trade in sombreros, panchos and plastic-encased scorpions that sidewalk merchants hawk on the few tourist-laden streets adjacent to the border. NAFTA is just an odd acronym here, an esoteric geopolitical mystery that doesn't put tortillas on the table.

But right across the fence is a land of relative affluence, accessible with ease through one of hundreds of holes, some a few feet wide, others big enough for the locals to drive trucks through--which they frequently do.

Legions of two-bit border thieves and hustlers have taken notice, and cross into Nogales, Arizona, daily to prey upon merchants and tourists. Drug smugglers are making use of the Nogales corridor to pump millions of dollars of contraband through the community.

Police and border officers working along the Arizona border say organized raiding parties often swoop over the fence and into American homes--beating the occupants and making off with TVs, radios and jewelry before disappearing. Near the border town of Naco last summer, a half-dozen such raids--some in broad daylight--prompted some residents to barricade themselves inside their homes for weeks on end in survivalist fashion, surrounded by barbed wire, bottled water and stockpiles of weapons.

Jack Tongisa, a gray-haired retiree who describes himself as a "native Nogales boy," lives only a few yards north of the Nogales border fence and says that he sleeps with a shotgun next to the bed--to protect what is left of his belongings.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Darrin Hostetler