A large majority of people who live side-by-side on the U.S.-Mexico border oppose the idea of a wall dividing their communities and countries, according to results of a survey conducted in April by Cronkite News at the University of Arizona, Univision and the Dallas Morning News.
Conducted in 14 cities on both sides of the 1,951-mile border, the survey found that 86% of people living on the Mexican side and 72% of those on the U.S. side are opposed to a wall. Of the minority in favor of a wall, only 2% on the U.S. side believe Mexico should pay for it.
"The wall is seen as a symbol of division, and what border residents want is connectivity," Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, told Univision News. "People living on the border feel very connected to the people on the other side."
"That should not come as a surprise, because people living in the border area work on the other side of the border, do business across the border, go to school across the border, visit their families living on the other side of the border. They have a binational life, with many connections," Wilson said. And many of them have been affected by the 653 miles of wall that have already been built.
Most survey respondents – 69% on the Mexican side and 59% on the U.S. side – believe the tone of the current U.S. presidential campaign is hurting the relationship between the two countries.
While most border residents oppose the wall, it doesn't mean they are against improving security. In fact, one of respondents' biggest concerns, especially on the Mexican side, is crime and insecurity, which ranks above employment and income.
Wilson notes that most border residents are concerned about security at legal border checkpoints, in contrast to the long stretches of desert where migrants and traffickers cross, which has been the main focus of U.S. government security efforts. That means security investments haven’t taken into account locals' real concerns.
The feeling of independency is mutual on both sides of the border.
Baselice & Associates conducted the border survey after carrying out a similar poll in 2001. "We have the advantage of having asked many of the same questions on this survey 15 years ago," said Mike Baselice, the company's president.
The 2001 survey was done before the September 11 terrorist attacks, after which border traffic became less fluid due to heightened security. At the time, the general sentiment on the border was more optimistic than today: About 40% of border residents believed things were improving back then, compared to fewer than 20% today.
The change isn't surprising, given the events of the last 15 years – from drug trafficking to the recession – and their impact on the border. But far from creating divisions between the two countries, these events have deepened their interdependency.
While both sides had slightly different priorities, they expressed similar concerns about issues such as security, employment and the economy in general. But more importantly, they believe their community is heavily dependent on the other (69% in Mexico and 79% in the United States).
In 2001, 62% of Mexicans and 71% of Americans were in favor of their neighbors crossing the border to work in their communities. In 2016, the figures rose to 85% and 76%, respectively. For every 100 people living on the U.S. side of the border, 82 support a direct path to citizenship for undocumented Mexicans living in the United States.
Despite of the rhetoric in the rest of the country, 86% of those on the U.S. side say they feel at ease with their neighbors on the Mexican side of the border. Around 79% of Mexicans agree.
Outlook varies by city.
The border isn't homogeneous. Although the survey's margin of error increases on a local level (it's 3.6% for the whole border), some cities are distinct.
The most prominent case is undoubtedly that of Ciudad Juárez. Known as the most dangerous city in the world from the years 2008 to 2010, today it's undergoing a cultural and economic revival through a process of "pacification." While the approach has been criticized by human rights activists, it has managed to significantly reduce crime.
Today, Juárez is by far the border community with the greatest levels of optimism. It's the one Mexican border city where most respondents are optimistic that things are improving, and where people feel safe.
Farther south, however, perceptions are quite different. In the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros/Brownsville corridors, which have been plagued for years by the war between The Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, security remains the biggest concern. There, 63% of respondents think that things are getting worse, 20 points higher than the Mexican average.
Citizens' top concerns vary in other cities. In Tijuana, which has become a tourist attraction due to its cultural and restaurant revival, one of the major concerns is air quality.
Binational cooperation is an important issue on this part of the border. In San Diego, divided by a wall with Mexico, there's no space for a new airport, so Tijuana built a facility known as the CBX that allows Americans to land in the city and quickly enter the United States through a tunnel, without having to sit in an endless line at the San Ysidro checkpoint.
The poll results were originally published by Univision, Fusion's parent company, in association with Cronkite News at the University of Arizona and The Dallas Morning News.
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