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Project captures the views of Arizona-Mexico border residents

Cars wait in line for inspection at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales. The port underwent a $250 million upgrade but some trade groups say it has not lived up to its promise. (Photo courtesy of Customs and Border Protection)

Cars wait in line for inspection at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales.  (Photo courtesy of Customs and Border Protection)

There’s been a lot of talk about the U.S. Mexico border on the presidential campaign trail. But something was missing: the local angle and voices of border residents. We organized the Cronkite News-Univision News-Dallas Morning News poll to hear directly from those who live on the border and know the region best.

On television, news coverage shows large rallies where any mention of a border wall by Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump is greeted with cheers and applause.

Angela Kocherga

Angela Kocherga

But on the border, most residents said they do not favor building a new wall. Baselice & Associates, Inc., a Texas-based survey research firm that also polled residents along the border in 2001, conducted the latest poll surveying 1,427 people living in “sister cities” on both sides of the border.  The stretch of Arizona-Mexico border included Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Yuma, Arizona, and San Luis, Sonora.

The idea of a poll came up during a conversation Alfredo Corchado and I had with Eric Newton, Innovation Director at the Cronkite School of Journalism.

Corchado recounted a border poll he had written about in the past. When we realized it had been years — 15 years since the last comprehensive opinion poll on both sides of the southwest border —  we thought it was time for a new survey. The timing couldn’t be better during an election year.

Newton developed Cronkite’s first crowd-funding project to help pay for the poll and the travel needed to report on the results. Partners — Univision News and the Dallas Morning News — came on board with both editorial and financial support. Cronkite and our media partners worked on the questions with the polling firm.

Corchado and I traveled the border with a team of student journalists interviewing a wide range of people, shooting video and photographs. The reporting trips took us to the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and more than a dozen border cities in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Border residents share more than geography. They share history, family and economic ties. And in many ways they have more in common with each other than with others in their respective nations. They consider each other neighbors. They think it should be easier to move back and forth across the border to work and return to their home country. They said the tone of the presidential election was hurting U.S. –Mexico relations

Many of those we talked to shared their frustration with being misunderstood and left out of the national policy debates in both countries.

I remember interviewing construction worker Fernando Flores Barrera who lives in the shadow of the existing border fence in Tijuana.

“He should let immigrants work, instead of blocking their path,” said Barrera of Trump.

Though the poll questions did not mention any candidates, Donald Trump’s name came up repeatedly.

“Just as we help them, the Americans, by working, they should give us a hand. You need us too,” said Barrera.

On the U.S. side on the border several people we interviewed called building a wall “simplistic,” since it does not, in their view, deal with the root causes of immigration and drug smuggling. “It’s still not addressing the real problems: the drug trafficking, the demand for labor in the United States,” said Melissa Bitofsky, a Nogales resident.

“There are other options that should be debated and discussed intelligently, particularly during an election year.”

The poll also gave respondents a chance to identify the issues that are important to them.

In Mexico, the top issues are crime and safety. No surprise for those of us who have covered the impact of drug violence in some Mexican border cities.

On the U.S. side where people reported they feel safe, the most important issues are wages, jobs, and the economy. Many young people who struggle to find good paying jobs in U.S. border cities are forced to leave their hometowns for better opportunities. We will continue to do more stories about the border brain drain and other issues that are important to those who live on the border.

The poll results will continue inform our Borderlands reporting for Cronkite News/Arizona PBS.

Angela Kocherga is Borderlands Director, Cronkite News at Arizona PBS,

Cronkite School of Journalism


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