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Lukeville Port of Entry closure could lead to an economic domino effect along the border

Politicians and officials across Arizona are up in arms about the Border Patrol’s closure of the Lukeville Port of Entry — which serves as the main crossing point for Arizonans heading to Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point, the closest beach from Phoenix. Leaders across the border are concerned that closure will create a domino effect. 

But, there’s another port of entry — right in downtown Nogales — that’s been closed for construction since late September. And it’s been having a big economic impact on Arizona businesses that rely on shoppers from Mexico.

Daisy Zavala Magaña with the Nogales International joined The Show to tell us more.

LAUREN GILGER: Good morning, Daisy.

DAISY ZAVALA MAGAÑA: Hi, how are you?

GILGER: Great. Thank you for coming on. So let's begin with what you're hearing from those businesses, many local businesses in downtown Nogales about this closure. What are they saying?

MAGAÑA: Yeah, I mean, when you walk down to Morley Avenue and you just, you know, sneak into any of the shops, most of the shop owners there are noting significant drop in revenue, you know. Melrose, it's well known, it's been there for a long time, told me about 80% drop in sales since that closure. And so while the city hasn't necessarily drawn a direct link, when you talk to the business owners, they're all indicating that it's that closure and, wait times that have been affecting them.

GILGER: So, you know, yeah, I mentioned the, the Lukeville border patrol closure and that was because of staffing, essentially because the surge of migrants border wide has been a challenge for border patrol to keep up with. They closed that to sort of prioritize where they're sending agents. This is a different reason. This is just construction, right?

MAGAÑA: Yeah, it's renovation. It's actually being overseen by Mexican officials, but they haven't been very forthcoming with specific details about the renovations and have given general sense of a general sense of when they're reopening, which was supposed to be at the weekend after Thanksgiving, which as we obviously have seen, it hasn't reopened.

GILGER: It hasn't happened yet. This is also the holiday season, like, is this a time that businesses there kind of rely on to, you know, make some of their money throughout the year?

MAGAÑA: Yeah, yeah. And both sides, but particularly on the U.S. side on Morley Avenue because a lot of those businesses as we briefly touched on, rely on Mexican shoppers that cross in for deals and, you know, just browsing all those stores on, on our downtown Avenue area. So they really, really do rely, you know, this time of year for that influx of income.

GILGER: They, I know, we're really hit hard during the COVID pandemic as well when the border was largely shut down to a lot of traffic, especially foot traffic. Are you seeing echoes of that, or the business owners there kind of having flashbacks?

MAGAÑA: You know, they're definitely worried. I'm not so sure if flashbacks would be quite the thing. I mean, some of them, some of the business owners are still sort of, they haven't quite recovered to their sales before the pandemic. You know, so they're still reeling with some of that. You know, but it's not like a blanket statement. Some are, some are already back up to what they were making before the pandemic, but some are still feeling the effects of those closures. 

GILGER: And these kind of closures are interesting, right? Because it shows the sort of incredible interconnected economies that we have on our border and in border communities like Nogales, like that was the conversation around Lukeville. Like we spoke with someone in  Rocky Point yesterday on the show about how they're already getting economically hit from that closure. Is this the kind of thing you see in Nogales that border closures and these changes on the international border that are literally in the middle of the city have a a really direct impact on the community there.

MAGAÑA: Oh, most definitely. You know, these border towns are so interlinked culturally economically. And in many other ways, and I also did speak to a very popular spot on the Mexican side, and they rely a lot on U.S. residents crossing, and their sales were down 45% and, you know, busy Friday nights, Saturday nights, they're not what they used to be. And, you know, they rely on, on people going back and forth, you know, same like our business here on the U.S. side.

GILGER: And these kinds of economic, you know, patterns, they can have ripple effects, right? Like in sales tax revenue for the city. Are you seeing that already from this closure, right there in downtown Nogales?

MAGAÑA: Yeah, the numbers definitely are they, you know, significant drop for the months that correspond with the closure, but city officials noted to me that they get the numbers dropped. Not, and they don't necessarily reflect first of October to the end of October, right? And they indicated that the sales tax for November and possibly December will be higher. And so right now, we're at the point where we're trying to get data from the state that is more specific to the port sales tax and the revenue that comes in through the port so we can actually pinpoint with certainty that, you know, this is exactly what's causing the significant drop that we saw in October.

GILGER: Final quick question for you, Daisy. There have been concerns voiced from many officials and other border communities, and I think in Nogales as well, that the closure in Lukeville because of border patrol resources will have a domino effect on other border communities. What are you hearing from officials in Nogales right now?

MAGAÑA: Yeah, our official with the Nogales, Santa Cruz Port of Entry did indicate that they're anticipating, you know, longer wait times and more backup logs as people get rerouted over here or try and find a, you know, an entry point because of that closure is sort of what we're hearing now.

GILGER: Ok, we'll leave it there, Daisy, Zavala Magaña with the Nogales International joining us to talk about the economic impacts of border closures there. Daisy, thank you for coming on. I appreciate it.

MAGAÑA: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.