Douglas: One last stop before Mexico

 

UETA is a popular destination for those crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, it is the first store along the Douglas- Agua Prieta border. (Photo by: Linda B. Padilla/Media Outlook)
UETA is a popular destination for those crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, it is the first store along the Douglas- Agua Prieta border. (Photo by: Linda B. Padilla/Arizona Sonora News)

Every morning Antonio Navarro and five other taxi drivers park on the last block, on the last road out of Arizona.

There, they wait for clients to cross from Mexico into Douglas.

The last block is located directly in front of the U.S. Border Customs station. It is a lonely street; the only movement is the couple of people crossing into Douglas or those who are on their way back to Mexico.

Navarro has been working in the transportation industry in Douglas for almost 30 years. What once was a prosperous business has slowed down. He asks for a minimum charge of $5 — that will get passengers to the local supermarkets.

On a good day he’ll make no more than $100.

Located 118 miles Southeast of Tucson, with a population of almost 17,000, Douglas is the state’s second largest commercial port, conducting more than $1 billion in trade each year.

The General Services Administration estimated approximately 4,100 privately operated vehicles, 3,600 pedestrians and 70 trucks cross into Douglas from Mexico on a daily basis in 2010.

According to a study by the University of Arizona, 81 percent of Sonora residents visiting the United States did so for the purpose of shopping, in 2008. Most came through Douglas.

The last block before the border has seen better days. With the loss of job opportunities residents have opted to migrate to bigger cities. Many of Douglas’ younger residents have left home in search of greater opportunities in nearby cities such as Tucson and Phoenix.

One of the most popular destinations for Mexicans visiting Douglas is UETA. The first store they pass by when they come into the U.S., UETA is a tax and duty-free travel retailer. This location sells high-end perfumes, wine and jewelry mainly sold for exportation.

Enrique Tapia, who has lived in Douglas for more than 20 years, believes the border transit has not slowed down but the commerce has. He occasionally helps a friend run a Boost Mobile store in the last block next to the U.S.- Mexico border and believes sales have decreased in the past years.

Although taxi drivers and small business owners would disagree, Luis Blanco, who has been working for UETA for six months, believes the clientele is divided between Douglas residents and those visiting from Sonora.

While there might be business in Douglas, the town has seen a steady decrease in population over the past four years.

Many of the Latino/Hispano population residing in Douglas migrated to the United States from Mexico, cities in Sonora such as Agua Prieta, Nacozari, Cananea and Esqueda.

In a symbiotic relationship, many of the residents of Douglas would go work in Agua Prieta, a Mexican border town with a population of more than 100,000.

Agua Prieta was home to more than 34 manufacturing plants, more commonly known as maquiladoras. Now, only 20 maquiladoras remain.

With this decline of maquiladoras, the job opportunities have also decreased.

The population in Douglas is falling. In 2010 the population was at 17,378 but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013 it dropped to 16,953 and an increase in population is unclear. The Douglas Economic Outlook for 2014 shows jobs in Cochise County fell by 3.5 percent and estimated 325 of those jobs were lost in Douglas.

One former Douglas residents is Roxana Bustamante, 22, who decided to leave her home to pursue her career goals in Tucson.

“People who branch out of Douglas usually don’t go back,” said Bustamante.

Linda Padilla is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at lindabpadilla@email.arizona.edu

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