Eugenio Celaya remembers a time when all that stood between his family’s home in Nogales, Arizona, and Mexico was a chain-link fence with a hole cut in the middle.
It was fun for a kid living in a tranquil neighborhood where – aside from migrants, vendors and a few drug couriers coming across once in a while – nothing really ever happened.
“People from the other side made several holes on the fence. It was easy to cut and people came over from the other side to sell burritos, tortillas, lemons and then they went back to the other side,” said Celaya, who lives in a home along International Boulevard.
In fact, his grandmother occasionally would send him across the opening to buy groceries at a store in Nogales, Mexico, the town on the other side of the border, Celaya says. But as he grew up, he began to witness more chases and see an increased U.S. Border Patrol presence.
“Obviously, the holes were also used to traffic people and (drugs),” he said. “People always used to go running by our street, including people who carried drugs.”
Today, an 18-foot-tall steel bollard fence draped in barbed wire stands less than 50 feet from his front porch. Nowadays, he sees more Border Patrol agents drive by in a day than migrants come over in a month.
“I think (the wall) is ugly but it has lowered people trafficking in our neighborhood. People always used to go running by the street, including people who carried drugs,” he said.
Celaya and a handful of other residents of this neighborhood right along the border say they feel safe with the stepped-up security. And, though they empathize with the plight of the migrants who feel compelled to come over illegally due to poverty and violence, they’re not in favor of open borders.
“If you want to migrate, I think you should do it the right way. People might not like the laws, but they’re there for a reason,” Celaya said. “I have friends that have come over and they’ve done it the right way. My stepdad became a U.S. citizen five years ago. My grandparents are from Mexico as well, but my grandpa served in World War II. Everyone goes through some hardship. There shouldn’t be a shortcut for coming to this nation.”
The neighborhood is almost completely Hispanic and includes younger U.S.-born men and women like Celaya, as well as legal immigrants like Noemi Gomez.
“Why did we come here? We came here to work and to follow the rules. We have Mexico in our heart but thank God we have a job and are happy,” Gomez said.
Gomez has mixed feelings about illegal immigration. She sympathizes with the migrant women coming to the border with their small children in tow. On the other hand, she believes the governments of Mexico and Central American countries should take care of their own poor.
“A lot of people in Mexico don’t have jobs but then people come from Central America and they give them food and shelter and jobs. People in Mexico have needs, so they should take care of them first,” she said.
Armando Robles, who’s been operating a food truck in various parts of Nogales for the past 30 years, said he doesn’t think the steel bollard wall makes too much of a difference.
“This has always been a very peaceful town. The wall has nothing to do with that,” he said. “Most migrants who come over bring water for the road, not drugs. That’s the way it’s always been. That hasn’t changed.”
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