Chula Vista and Imperial Beach in California anchor the Western end of the US Mexican border, just south of San Diego; roughly 2,000 miles to the east and 500 miles south, Brownsville Texas is the last city of any size on the US side, with South Padre Island on the water a bit to the north and a beachy Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge right up on the border.
At the Western end of the border, on the Pacific beach, parallel border walls create a heavily patrolled no-man’s land that extends into the ocean. Mexican beach tourism drives a busy economy there.
On the Eastern end, the AP newswire describes the Mexican beach settlement of Bagdad, the last town before the unwalled swampy boundary with the US, as a quietly menacing place:
[H]ere there are no steel pilings marching out to sea to stop migrants from swimming, wading or paddling across to the United States.
In Playa Bagdad, which is spelled ‘Playa Baghdad’ by the Drug Enforcement Agency,’ it’s apparently unnecessary: This is a beach for drugs and crime, not migrants.
. . . The only highway end abruptly in a handful of structures populated by beachgoers looking for alcohol and fisherman who might catch sharks ne day and unload cocaine the next.
. . . The reason it’s kept under wraps is simple: Cartels tend to use these coastal plains for purposes like transporting drugs – or as the DEA notes, dumping bodies clandestinely. And they put a premium on keeping migrants away.
“They want to keep the heat off this spot,” said Marco Antonio Alvarez, a rail-thin old man with greying beard and leather-like skin toughened by the sun.
See the full article from AP, published in USA Today on August 27, 2019, here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/08/27/playa-bagdad-us-mexico-border-town-occupied-drugs-crime-cartel/2131161001/
Reading the Arizona Star, the Brownsville Herald, the Las Cruces Sun-News and other border-town papers helps form a mosaic of the border that includes unions and jobs, construction and traffic patterns, crime and drugs, and stories of cross-border high-school sports and community theater, among other small-town concerns that bang against the border and sometimes flow over it.
On September 30, for example, the Brownsville Herald reported on the awarding of border-wall contracts to build out a 65-mile section of the barrier, not as a story about policy, politics or international relations, but as a local business story. The $800 million dollar inflow of construction spending and its outsize impact on a small municipal economy were the big news
Crime figures in many stories about border towns. Like crime in these towns generally, the stories that get more attention are the unexpected ones. In August, for example, the Laredo Morning Times ran a local crime story about a human smuggler, arrested en route to a court arraignment, grabbing the gun from an police officer. https://www.lmtonline.com/news/crime/article/LPD-Suspected-human-smuggler-attempts-to-take-14381399.php
Also in august, the El Paso Times ran a store about the killing of three girls and one man during a kidnapping attempt in Juarez, the city just across the border. In the US, this would have qualified as mass shooting, with 120 shots fired. At the border, it was bigger news in El Paso than in Juarez. https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/local/juarez/2019/08/26/3-girls-1-man-killed-shooting-during-man-kidnapping-juarez-mexico-violence/2124041001/
The Yuma Sun, like a number of border-town papers, covers news across the border for local families with ties that span the national boundary, with some headlines in Spanish under their “Desert Life” and “Los Algodones Mexico” tabs. http://www.yumasun.com
Tucson-based Arizona Sun regularly reports on environmental issues at the border, including the impact of invasive bufflegrass leading to more fires.
“It’s a harbinger of things to come up there, unfortunately,” said Ben Wilder, director of the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. “We’re facing the complete unhinging of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.” https://tucson.com/news/local/ecologists-issue-call-to-action-after-buffelgrass-fire-scorches-saguaros/article_c630a967-366b-5c37-998e-4a188bda5489.html