Trump wants to build a wall, but border cities prefer bridges
The 26-year-old attended Texas A&M International University and graduated with degrees in business administration and economics. He started a new job last year as an office manager for an oil and gas company near Laredo, Texas.
But Davila still lives in Nuevo Laredo, where he was born and raised, and drives every weekday across a 1,050-foot bridge to the United States.
“I’m living half of the American Dream,” Davila jokes.
Thousands of Americans and Mexicans cross over the Rio Grande every day — to work, shop and visit family — and then cross back.
For these sister cities, the border is blurred. In many ways, the cities are one, their identities forged beyond Washington, D.C., where the Trump administration plans to build a wall dividing the U.S. from Mexico to stop illegal immigration.
“From our standpoint, we’re doing the best we can just to hold onto each other because we’re so dependent economically, socially, as well as culturally,” said Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz. “We can’t allow others to define our relationship because we live it.”
Welcome to the Two Laredos.
• • •
Before the United States existed, Laredo was a Spanish settlement founded in 1755. It was later claimed by the Mexicans and then by Texans when the state became its own republic in 1836.
At the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the Rio Grande became the southern border of the United States, cutting Laredo in half. Some families didn’t want to live under the American flag and moved across the border to what became Nuevo Laredo, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Fast forward to 2018, and the city of Laredo, where 95 percent of residents are Hispanic, has a population of roughly 260,000. Its sister city is home to 373,000.
About a dozen U.S. towns are united across the border with a Mexican city, said Irasema Coronado, a University of Texas at El Paso professor who studies border issues. They all share the same characteristics: language, culture, commerce and family.
“The interdependent nature of Nuevo Laredo and Laredo is pretty common,” Coronado said.
Laredo is the largest U.S. land port, and half of its economy is driven by international trade across the Rio Grande, said Saenz.
The Texas mayor would like to see more security at the border, in the form of technology and clearing the river to give the U.S. Border Patrol more visibility.
But for many border residents, Saenz said, talk of building a wall is offensive.
Officials from the two cities meet at least monthly.
“We talk about security, we talk about health, we talk about developments,” said Nuevo Laredo Mayor Enrique Rivas. “We want to build a new bridge.”
Last year, the mayors visited Washington, D.C., together, Rivas said, to show the U.S. government that border cities can work together despite “diplomatic tension generated by the new administration.”
“We don’t want to build walls,” he said.
• • •
Along the foot bridge in Nuevo Laredo, the line of men and women begins to form before 7 a.m. Customs and Border Protection officers will ask them, one by one, for the documents that allow them to cross into Laredo.
Many Mexicans who walk to Laredo gather at the San Agustin Plaza on benches and browse their phones as they wait for rides, many to get to work.
Nearly 700,000 pedestrians and drivers cross into Laredo each month, according to federal estimates.
Davila, who dreams of working at a New York City bank one day, commutes to his job at the Killam Oil Co.
“I’m earning three times more than I was working in Mexico,” he said. With the current exchange rate of 19 Mexican pesos for $1, Davila’s life in Nuevo Laredo is much more affordable.
It’s a choice that many Mexicans who are able to work in the U.S. make: Earning dollars and spending pesos.
“There’s a lot of movement,” said Elizabeth Herrera, a 26-year-old Mexican who works in a government office across the bridge. Herrera, who studied at an American university in Florence, Italy, used to walk to work, spending up to two hours waiting in line to cross.
But she recently enrolled in a program for pre-approved travelers that allows quicker access to drivers through U.S. checkpoints.
“Here at the border,” she said, “it’s like the bridge doesn’t exist.”
• • •
Along Convent Avenue, a main thoroughfare leading from one of four bridges into Laredo, cars with Mexican license plates move slowly through traffic as shoppers browse store windows plastered with signs in Spanish. “We take Mexican pesos,” one sign says. “New low prices,” reads another in front of a Payless shoe store.
In Laredo, Mexican cuisine is authentic. In Nuevo Laredo, some families celebrate the Fourth of July. During the Mexican minor league season, the Two Laredos’ baseball team, Los Tecolotes (The Owls), play in the stadiums of both cities.
The majority of their fans are Mexican, though many are Mexican-American families who live in Laredo, said the team’s spokesman, Jorge Ortega.
“We’re trying to unite two countries that have been a bit divided in the last few years,” he said. “Our idea is to strengthen that bond by representing the two cities.”
The players hail from Los Angeles, Houston and different regions of Mexico. On the field, they wear the same white and navy blue uniform, with the American flag as the backdrop to the team nickname.
The team’s hashtag: “Two nations, one team.”
Contact Laura C. Morel at email@example.com. Follow @lauracmorel. Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation as part of its Adelante Latin America Reporting Initiative.