The border: myth vs. reality
The border is often in the news linked to topics such as violence or ‘security.’ But the border is a much more real and complex place, where millions of multicultural people live and work. To speak of violence or ‘security’ without really understanding their conditions and engaging them in the solutions does a disservice to any efforts by federal authorities to achieve long term security in the region.
What is the border?
The U.S.-Mexico border is a 2,000 mile stretch of land from the California coast to the Gulf of Mexico and 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) into the United States and Mexico. Forty four U.S. counties link with 80 Mexican municipalities, with a total of 14 pairs of sister cities.
Who lives on the border?
More than 6.5 million people lived on the U.S. side of the border in 2000. The 2010 population estimate is expected to be closer to 8 million.
The population is growing quickly, due to births as well as migration of retirees, soldiers, and people fleeing the drug war violence in Mexico. Two border cities in Texas are among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.
Border residents are primarily Latino —ranging from 29% to 97% of the population, depending on the county.
What are the economic conditions of border residents?
For over 25 years, the border region has been even more economically depressed than Appalachia. In U.S. border counties, the average yearly income is $14,560. For Latinos living in the border, the yearly income is closer to $10,000.
One out of three families and one out of two families headed by a single mother on the border are living in poverty today. The unemployment rate is 250-300% higher than the rest of the country. Nearly 42% of Latino children in the Texas border live in poverty. More than 432,000 people in the border are living with substandard housing and unsafe drinking water or wastewater systems.
What caused so much poverty in the border region?
The border region has suffered from economic abandonment, institutional racism, and social and physical isolation from the rest of the nation for many decades.
Historically, the region belonged to Native Americans, then Spain, and then Mexico. When the United States acquired that land, Mexican residents on the U.S.-side became American. Border residents who were of Mexican origin and only spoke Spanish quickly became vulnerable to exploitative labor practices. Many companies established factories in the border, where they could pay very low wages. For example, El Paso, Texas, was known as the Jeans Capital of the World in the 1970’s. With passing of international trade agreements, factories left the border seeking even cheaper labor in Mexico and Asia, leaving tens of thousands of people unemployed.
Sources: U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission, 2010; U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission; University of Texas Pan-American, 2002; Ortíz-González, V. El Paso: Local Frontiers at a Global Crossroads, 2004; Slack, et al, Demographic Research, 2009