The line of Mexicans waiting to go shopping in Arizona snakes twice around the sun-drenched plaza, even as politicians nearby slap stickers on cars calling for a boycott of the U.S. state.
And the illegal migrants targeted by a tough new Arizona law dismiss it as just another obstacle that pales in comparison to the extortion, arrests and kidnappings they already risk to reach U.S. soil. They vow to keep on coming.
Resentment has erupted throughout Mexico over the immigration law in Arizona that is considered racist here. But crossing back and forth between the countries is so intrinsic to their lives that many Mexicans find it hard to give it up despite calls by immigration activists for a boycott of Arizona.
“Border cities depend on each other and it has been that way for many years,” said Maria Romero, a nurse from Nogales, which lies across from the Arizona town of the same name. “It seems they don’t understand that on the other side and are always looking for ways to make things more difficult.”
There are few signs so far that the bill has deterred Mexicans from crossing into Arizona–legally or not. The wait to drive across the border is more than two hours.
For many of the tens of thousands of Mexicans who legally visit Arizona every day to shop for bargains or visit relatives, the cost of not going is too high–despite their dislike of the law.
In Nogales, Mexico, Romero lined up with hundreds of others at the border crossing, inching forward around a plaza and past vendors hawking jewelry and cheap souvenirs. She needed to buy a tuxedo for her 5-year-old son to wear to his kindergarten graduation and hoped to find it for a third of what it would cost in Mexico.
“No one should cross, but we go because we want to save,” Romero said.
Life in the two cities is tightly interwoven despite the corrugated steel wall that runs along the hillsides, separating a string of fast-food restaurants and cheap clothing stores on the U.S. side from the dusty streets and nightclubs to the south.
The Mexican city, founded in the 19th century along a north-south railway line built to promote trade between the two countries, has become the largest point of entry for the estimated 65,000 Mexicans who visit Arizona every day, mostly for the big shopping malls.
In Santa Cruz county–where Arizona’s Nogales is located–Mexican visitors account for 50 percent of taxable sales, the research found.
Mexicans angry about the immigration law want to deprive Arizona of that income.
The Institute for Mexicans Abroad, an autonomous government agency that supports Mexicans living and working in the United States, called for boycotts of Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns until those organizations denounce the law.
Mexican legislators of all political stripes have called on the government of President Felipe Calderon to consider breaking commercial ties with Arizona. The government has issued a travel alert for the state, warning that migrants face an adverse political environment there.
At a shelter in Nogales, meanwhile, deported migrants discussed how soon they could get back across the border.
“I’ll return to Arizona because I know a lot of people there, and I’ll go where people will give me work, law or no law,” said Nicasio Benitez, who worked in landscaping there until he was deported last week after being caught in a car with a cracked windshield.
“Life there is awful, but I don’t go to the U.S. because I like living there,” he added. “I go because I like dollars.”