Attacks have Mexicans heading south of the border
November 28, 2001
The Sept. 11 attacks have had a devastating effect on communities on both sides of the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border.
Following the attacks, the federal government instituted stricter border crossing procedures for those entering the United States.
Those who wanted to travel into the United States from Mexico had to wait as long as four hours. Before, the line normally took half an hour. Although the waiting time has recently decreased, crossing the border remains an uncertain process here in El Paso, Texas, where more than 1 million vehicles cross monthly and about 18,000 people walk across the bridges every day.
Prior to the attacks, thousands of Mexicans came to the United States on a daily basis to purchase everything from food to clothes to household furniture. But now, American businesses along the border have seen a huge decrease in the number of Mexican shoppers.
And business is on the decline in Mexican border cities. American tourists, put off by the difficulty in returning to the United States, are staying away.
For decades, Americans regularly visited Mexican border cities for medical care, to purchase household goods and to go sightseeing. Some shops have seen more than a 90 percent drop in revenue, according to the El Diario newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Mexican workers in the United States are also experiencing the distressing consequences of Sept. 11. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 350,000 Mexicans have returned home since Sept. 11.
Many Mexican workers are leaving the United States because the industries that employed them -- especially service industries connected to tourism -- have been hard hit. Others fear that another terrorist attack could lead to a complete closing of the border, trapping them in the United States.
The U.S. economy has long depended on the labor of millions of Mexican workers. In the first half of the 20th century, Southwestern industries, such as construction, agriculture and mining, were built on the backs of Mexican immigrant workers. American business and U.S. immigration policy have encouraged the migration of Mexican workers to the United States.
As Mexican workers continue to contribute to the economic development of this nation in exchange for low wages, American businesses continue to make huge profits off their work.
In turn, Mexico depends on the money sent back home from Mexican workers living in the United States. But as workers return to Mexico because of Sept. 11 and the U.S. recession, the situation has only worsened.
If we have learned anything about U.S.-Mexico relations in the weeks following Sept. 11, it is that we are two nations that depend on each other in fundamental ways. It is time we recognize the importance of Mexican workers in the United States.
Yolanda Chvez Leyva is an historian specializing in border and Mexican-American history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.