By Margaret Wright
— Straddling 2,000 miles from the tip of Texas to the coast of California, the U.S./Mexico border region is characterized by contrast and volatility. The borderlands are home to historic communities torn apart by horrifying violence, economic opportunities amidst grinding poverty, people banding together for change alongside bitter competition over resources. This past year was brimming with such stories. Here’s the first installment of ten that captivated me the most.
“Net zero” immigration — High rates of immigrants crossing from Mexico into the U.S. held steady for years, but the tide has turned, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report released in April. For the first time in 50 years, northward migrations have decreased as immigrants simultaneously leave the U.S. and return to Mexico—which could foretell of profound social and economic change in both countries.
New president = new drug war — Declared the winner after an election marred by protests and allegations of corruption, Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president of Mexico on Dec. 1, thus returning his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power. (The PRI ruled presidential politics for 71 years until the election of Vicente Fox in 2000 and Felipe Calderon in 2006.) Peña Nieto faces a citizenry that has seen tens of thousands of deaths and disappearances in Mexico’s ongoing drug war, but his plans for stemming the bloodshed have so far been short on specifics. He says he plans to maintain close security ties with the U.S., which contributes billions in aid for Mexican drug war efforts. He also says he’ll continue employing military and paramilitary forces to serve as the primary battering ram against cartel activities—though during his campaign, Peña Nieto seemed likely to scale back his predecessor’s emphasis on pursuing the leadership of vicious organized crime rings.
Excessive force — In October, a week after a 16-year-old Nogales boy was shot and killed, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights called a news conference to decry the number of lethal shootings committed by on-duty U.S. Border Patrol Agents. That same month, the Department of Homeland Security launched a review of policies regarding the use of force. At least 18 people have been killed by agents since 2010, including U.S. citizen Valeria Tachiquin who was shot in San Diego on Sept. 28.
U.S. border official wrongdoing — The Mexican government gets called out for its agents being engaged in bribery and other criminal activity, but the U.S. side of the border sees its share of bad behavior. This year included a spate of new incidences. There was the high-profile sentencing of Columbus, N.M. town officials for gun smuggling to Juárez La Linea cartel members. A U.S. Border Patrol Agent from El Paso pled guilty in August to charges of buying guns bound for Mexico. And on the California/Mexico border, Customs and Border Protection Officer Hector Rodriguez was arrested in July for conspiracy and immigrant smuggling. San Diego federal court also handled four cases of law enforcement corruption, with two U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers sentenced this fall for taking cash bribes from a confidential informant posing as a drug smuggler, and an August trial that ended in convictions for two Border Patrol agents who ran an immigrant smuggling ring. Since 2004, nearly 150 U.S. border security officials have been charged with corruption and related offenses.
Journalist Deaths — While it’s not always clear that killings of journalists in Mexico are directly related to their profession, it is undeniable that widespread violence poses severe danger to reporters. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, freelance writer Adrián Silva Moreno was murdered in November expressly because of his work. CPJ is looking into five other murders. However, the organization posted on its website, “the Mexican government’s failure to carry out basic investigations in many cases makes it extremely difficult … to determine a motive.”