Nogales: An American city and a city in Mexico separated by barbed wire

NOGALES, Ariz. (NewsNation Now) — Nogales, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona share a name but are divided by wired fences and an iron wall that overlooks both the quiet American residential neighborhood and the bustling Mexican town.

The walls of Nogales date back more than a century and have taken different forms throughout history.

According to a New York Times report, the two Nogalese went to war for a day in 1918 after an American guard shot and killed a Mexican citizen at the border crossing. After that, the two governments agreed to build a permanent chain-link fence between them.

What now exists is a more industrious and modern fence that is a continuing source of debate among residents, some of whom travel between the two locations.

Manuel Castro is originally from Mexico but has lived in Nogales, Arizona for 55 years. He established his life there long before the addition of the modern border fence, further separating the two towns, which he says have had bad press over the years.

“People are going to come anyway so why build walls? he said.

Barbed wire atop the border wall separates Nogales, Mexico, and Nogales, Arizona. (Katie Smith/NewsNation Now)

Mexico City is over 10 times larger than the city on the other side of the fence. The local newspaper in Nogales, Mexico reported 365 murders in 2021. The most recent FBI data for Nogales, Arizona showed there were no murders there in 2019.

The crime overflows however. In October 2020, US Border Patrol agents discovered a cross-border tunnel under the streets of Nogales, Arizona – the 127th tunnel discovered in the Tucson area since 1990.

Law enforcement says the tunnels are used to smuggle people and drugs across the border.

But Castro, who has lived in Arizona for several decades, says the wall is unnecessary and blames the smuggling and trafficking problems on a few bad actors.

“I think the Nogales have an undeserved bad reputation. Sure, there were gunshots from the other side and violence, but that’s in the past. Now I think both cities are really peaceful,” he said.

The barrier separating Nogales, Arizona, to the north and Nogales, Mexico, to the south is more elaborate than those in other crossing areas. The razor wire wrapped along the top of the wall is meant to deter people from climbing the structure or throwing goods. Adding chicken wire between the iron beams of the fence prevents materials from slipping through the gaps, residents said.

A group of children play basketball on the Mexican side of the border wall that separates Nogales, Mexico, and Nogales, Arizona. (Katie Smith/NewsNation Now)

But life in Nogales, Mexico is still visible from Arizona through the fences. The colorful houses perched atop the mountains tower over the Mexican side of the fence, with a clear line of sight to the city counterpart in Arizona. Just beyond the barbed wire and metal bars, children’s laughter could be heard as a group played basketball in a schoolyard.

“I can tell you myself that with my church, I walk through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Nogales, Sonora, and nothing happens to me. Everyone knows me. We live in peace,” Castro said.

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