Security 360°

Mapping Security in Ambos Nogales

Security 360: The Project

Security 360°, produced by students of the UA School of Journalism, hones in on one specific community of the borderlands, Ambos Nogales, to better understand the impacts of increasing and sustained militarization. What began as a simple endeavor to visualize security in one-square mile of Ambos Nogales, expanded to a 360º view of security in this border community.

Exploring aspects of the border from the history of militarization, responses of residents to security, the social and economic costs and the future of security in the region, this multimedia effort aims to improve public understanding about militarization and what it means to the people who live on both sides of this small stretch of the 362-mile border between Arizona and Sonora.

This cover story is the first in a series that are being published in the Tucson Weekly. The full online project includes additional information, graphics, and media; including a 360 virtual reality video of the border in Ambos Nogales. For the full project visit

Alex Devoid, Taylor Nye, Hana Pape, and Alicia Vega contributed to this report

Border security is expensive.

The U.S. government spent an estimated $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2014, according to a 2015 Department of Homeland Security Budget-in-Brief. Since 1990, the annual budget for Border Patrol has multiplied more than 10-fold, from around $260 million to more than $3.6 billion in 2014, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In border communities, such as Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, known as Ambos Nogales, security has become omnipresent. Yet, despite the plummeting of crime and undocumented immigration, some politicians and presidential hopefuls are calling for more border enforcement. Higher walls. Better cameras. More agents. New technology. All funded by taxpayers.

On the state level, Gov. Doug Ducey is pushing to start an Arizona Border Strike Force Bureau, which includes an additional $31.5 million in border enforcement funding. The strike force, as part of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, would partner with other agencies to "deter, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations responsible for smuggling drugs and humans into Arizona," Ducey announced in a testimony before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last November.

"At the end of the day, the old model wasn't working," said Torunn Sinclair, the governor's digital and broadcast press secretary.

But not everyone supports the plan. In an open letter, the Arizona Sheriffs Association expressed concerns about the plan, including a perceived failure to address issues within the DPS.

Alleged sweeping of funds from local agencies is among the ASA's criticisms. "This continued trend [of sweeping county money] by the state impacts our ability to have any autonomy in deciding what is best for our own respective counties," the letter said.

ASA suggested that outdated radio systems, unfilled positions leaving highways unpatrolled and crime lab backlogs need to be addressed before creating new statewide law enforcement programs.

"It's a bad idea, trying to reinvent the wheel," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. "Before you decide that you're going to come into our territory and tell us what you're going to do, why don't you do what you're supposed to do first."

Some community members also have concerns about how Ducey's plan will impact people living and working on the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We can't continue escalating the militarization of the border," said Teresa Leal, the director and curator of the Pimería Alta Historical Society in Nogales, Arizona Leal, who lives in Nogales, Sonora, and who travels north almost every day, said she worries about the safety of the people on both sides of the border as the number of weapons and agencies working in the region continues to increase.

The Mapa

Over the past decades border security has become part of everyday life in Ambos Nogales. Walls, checkpoints, floodlights and border patrol agents are ubiquitous on both sides of the border.

Many residents on both sides said they feel safe in the border towns, but increased security has impacted their communities, said Laura Moreno, a resident of Nogales, Arizona who was born in Nogales, Sonora. While she feels at ease in Ambos Nogales, she is concerned for businesses on the U.S. side of the border, which have suffered as security increases.

"Here on the border, many of our businesses survive because of the people who come across the border from Mexico to spend money," Moreno said in Spanish. While she knows that Border Patrol agents have to do their jobs, the long lines and increased restrictions have been challenging. "I would like to see the agents be friendly and more courteous to the people crossing," she said.

Costs of Security

All of the technology, infrastructure, and personnel have imposed costs to taxpayers and community members on both sides of Ambos Nogales. Beyond the U.S Customs and Border Protection's 2014 budget of nearly $13 billion, the price of border security is more than the sum of dollars spent building walls, buying new technology and paying agents. Residents in Ambos Nogales, and throughout the United States and Mexico, feel the effects of militarization in financial, social and human terms.

Economic Costs

Government spending on border security has cost taxpayers approximately $29 billion on the Border Patrol alone over the past 10 years, but the militarized border zone has impacted the economy in other ways too. A dramatic rise in border security has made it more difficult for people and goods to cross, according to a 2013 analysis by the Border Research Partnership titled, "State of the Border Report."

Local business owners in Nogales, Arizona, depend heavily on cross-border commerce. A large part of the city's income stems from the people who cross the border north to shop. But increased border security has introduced new barriers to economic exchange, making it harder for people and products to move back and forth.

Residents in Nogales, Arizona, are concerned about the decline in business and economic security. For people like Leal, a descendant of the Sonoran indigenous group known as Opata, and whose family has lived in the region for centuries, the tension between security and economics is worrisome. "We have to recognize that we could be considered a ghost town in the near future," Leal said.

Costs to Migrants and Families

There are also social costs that come with increasing security. An ever-growing militarized zone poses threats to migrant health and wellbeing in Ambos Nogales and across the U.S.-Mexico border.

People crossing the border endure a physical test that thousands fail to pass as they perish in the desert, along with the threat of violent apprehensions or detainment at the hands of Border Patrol, according to a 2013 report, "In the Shadow of the Wall," by the University of Arizona Center for Latin American Studies.

This fear is driven, in part, by Border Patrol's "prevention through deterrence" policy, which has resulted in funneling migrants into the most inhospitable parts of the borderlands. The journey that migrants are now more dangerous, leading to an increase in migrant deaths. Between 1998 and 2013, more than 6,000 migrant bodies were found on the U.S. side of the border, according to the International Organization for Human Migration. And, although the number of undocumented immigrants has declined, the number of deaths has not. On the Mexican side, the number of migrant deaths is unknown.

The strategy of deterrence, initially implemented in the mid-1990s through Border Patrol programs such as Operation Gatekeeper in the San Diego sector and Operation Safeguard in the Tucson sector, increased the number of agents, construction of fences and equipment such as lighting and all-terrain vehicles. The Border Patrol has also implemented "enforcement with consequences," including sending migrants to detention centers and charging them with felonies for illegally crossing the border, such as Operation Streamline.

These policies were designed to make crossing the border less appealing to migrants, but instead of deterring migrants, those crossing began to use routes that were farther and farther into the open desert in an effort to avoid authorities, consequently putting their lives at greater risk.

"Prior to 2000 the average number of deaths in this terrain were 12 per year. After 2000 that average rose to 170 per year," said Reyna Araibi, outreach coordinator for the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, which advocates for the families of missing migrants.

Colibrí Center has more than 2,500 active cases of migrants who have been reported missing after crossing the border into the U.S., and dozens of new reports come in every week, Araibi said.

"Even when we see apprehensions go down, the death rate remains really high," she said. "Never in the past two decades have we really seen any significant decrease in the amount of people who are dying or going missing on the border."

All of this has led to separation of families, and many families never know what happened to loved ones. Araibi calls it a "uniquely traumatic and devastating experience."

"So these families, thousands of families, more than 2000 families, are still suffering through this every day," she said. "Families never stop searching. They can't accept a death if there's no body and no confirmation. So it's a constant daily agonizing, wondering where this person is, what happened to them, if they're in pain or not."

Costs to Community Safety

People living in communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border also feel the influence of these security measures in their daily lives.

In Nogales, Arizona, a town that is 95 percent Hispanic/Latino, according to the 2014 U.S. Census, many fear racial profiling, Leal said.

"Everybody is fully aware that if they are Mexican looking that they will have different treatment," she said. "It's something that's lived everyday."

While Border Patrol agents have a duty to ensure security at the border, some people are also raising concerns about the use of deadly force by Border Patrol.

In the past five years, there have been at least 40 deaths by Border Patrol agents, nine of which occurred in the Arizona-Sonora region of the border, according to the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

"There are no rules to play by. No rules that check that potential violence through weapons and the law enforcement, in quotes, doing their job," Leal said. "Nobody is really aware of what they are doing, so nobody can say, 'You can't do that because this policy says you can't do it.'"

On the south side of Ambos Nogales, 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was shot and killed on Oct. 10, 2012, by a Border Patrol agent. The Border Patrol said the shooting was justified because Elena Rodríguez posed an immediate threat by throwing rocks at agents on the other side of the fence. However, community members argue that the teen could not pose a threat from nearly 50 feet below the top of the border wall.

Last October, three years after the death of Elena Rodríguez, a federal grand jury indicted Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz on charges of second-degree murder in connection with the teen's death. (To watch a 360º video of the location of the shooting, visit the Security 360º website.) His trial is scheduled to begin later this month.

Expanding Security

Border Patrol is growing at what Todd Miller, author of Border Patrol Nation and occasional Tucson Weekly contributor, calls an "unprecedented" rate. The number of agents has increased from fewer than 4,000 in 1994 to more than 20,000 in 2015. Border Patrol jurisdiction has also been expanded to what is known as the "100 mile zone," giving agents authority within 100 miles of any part of the border, a region that covers more than two-thirds of the entire U.S. population.

"And that goes for budgets as well," Miller said. The Border Patrol's $18 billion budget is greater than that of all other U.S. federal law enforcement agencies combined. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is "one of the world's largest law enforcement organizations," according to the CBP.

Governor Ducey's proposed Arizona Strike Force would add one more piece to the complicated security apparatus at the border, increasing the costs, both social and economic, to people living in this region.

"We've got a lot of law enforcement here," Estrada said.

In Nogales, Arizona, a city of fewer than 20,500 people, there are already six law enforcement agencies working: the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department, the Nogales Police Department, the Department of Public Safety, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, not including other independent and private government contractors that are hired to work on lights and technology on and near the border.

Nogales, Arizona, also has seen decreasing crime rates in recent years, according to the 2015 annual report by the Nogales Police Department. In the past year, there were fewer reports of burglary, theft and domestic disturbances compared with the previous year. And, reports of aggravated assaults decreased more than 40 percent, from 36 calls in 2014, to 20 in 2015. There have been no homicides in the past two years.

"Why add another layer to something that's already being addressed," Estrada continued. "If you want to do anything about border security, we are the poorest county. Give me money so I can buy cars, so I can put people out on the road. That would help a lot."

The plan will bring money to counties, according to Sinclair. The $31.5 million requested to fund the DPS program, and Ducey's executive budget request, awaits approval by state Legislature. However, the strike force has already been implemented using existing resources, Sinclair added.

"At the end of the day, we really respect the sheriffs and the work that they're doing," she said. "It's about getting them what they need."

However, some argue that the strike force was created without any input from agencies that have been working for many years to address border security.

"There had been no pre-warning, no discussion, no dialogue, no reaching out," Estrada said. "It was like, we're going to do this whether you like it or not."

Leal expressed similar feelings on behalf of area residents.

"The Arizona-Sonora border is definitely a lab test for all of these things, and yet, the politicians like Ducey and others don't take advantage of that experience and listen to people," Leal said.

"And that is a dangerous situation, when people run out of faith or trust. It's a sense of powerlessness."

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