A reader writes:
This year my fiance will be released from prison and deported back to Mexico (6yrs in). He has been in the US since he was 5. All of his family is here, but he doesn’t want to chance coming back (he just served 6 for crossing twice) so he left me with the task of finding where is safer: Nogales or Agua Prieta. Here is a little about me: I’m white , green eyes, super light skin and blond but I dye it black. We also have a 6 year old son that will be joining us in Aug (grandparents for the summer). He doesn’t care about the safety for him but for me and our son. I don’t speak a ton of Spanish. So where would be safer and have more jobs for him? I’m going to be working across the border. Thanks so much and I’m sorry it’s such a long question.
Wow, that’s rough about your husband. It saddens me that the government would put a man away for something many of us don’t need to think twice about. More evidence that our immigration system needs reform.
A thought: Have you considered living further inland, in one of Mexico’s safer states? There are many Mexican towns with large American populations, where you might be able to find under-the-table work. If your husband speaks English that could be a real asset for job hunting in a tourist area. Also, have you considered teaching English? Even if you don’t have teaching experience, as a native English speaker you have a lot to offer.
As to your question…It should be noted that both Agua Prieta and Nogales are in the state of Sonora, which has a rather high rate of cartel-related deaths. However, the overall situation in the state of Sonora seems to be improving, with murder rates declining steadily since 2009. I happen to like Agua Prieta better than Nogales because it’s smaller, more pleasant, and way easier to deal with. As of 2012, Nogales still had a murder rate that’s well above the national average. That said, Nogales appears to be on the mend: drug related deaths have declined 68 percent since 2009.
As far as border towns go, Agua Prieta is considered much safer than Nogales or Ciudad Juarez. It’s rumored that the town is under the control of the Sinaloa Cartel and the famous narco El Chapo, who has actually managed to control violence in the area to some degree.
From an article in the Douglas Dispatch: Mayor Michael Gomez pointed out there is not that much violence in Agua Prieta, compared to the border cities of Nogales and Juarez. “We have had a lot of visitors who say they feel very safe in Douglas and they feel very safe to walk into Agua Prieta.”
From a2012 blog post by a volunteer at The Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta: “One thing I’d like to learn more about, though, is why Agua Prieta is a relatively safe town when so many other border towns have become increasingly violent. Not that the media narrative of border violence isn’t overblown, but Agua Prieta in particular is, by all accounts I’ve heard, perfectly safe. Sergio told me that if you want to get into trouble, you can do that, but if you stay out of bad activities, you’ll be fine. Phil and Tommy, another church guy, have dismissed most of my safety questions by telling me it’s fine. Yes, I can walk around Agua Prieta at night by myself. The worst problem they’ve had with female volunteers solo is getting catcalled, and that’s something which is hardly unique to here. I did end up walking through town by myself last night, because we went to a minor league baseball game and I didn’t want to wait in the hour-long car line to cross the border in Tommy’s car, so I just walked about a mile and a half back home (mostly on the U.S. side). And nothing felt sketchy. I know my anecdotal perceptions don’t mean much, but everyone I’ve talked to has consistently told me that violence in Agua Prieta is way, way lower than in Nogales, much less Ciudad Juarez. Anyway, if I do figure that one out, I’ll be sure to write about it.”
Actually the above blog post has some interesting info about resources for Mexicans who are deported from the US to Agua Prieta. You might want to check it out.
General info on Agua Prieta: Agua Prieta has a population of about 79,000 people but gives the impression of being a relatively small town. The town has a pleasantly Mexican feel. (One potential issue is that Douglas, across the border from Agua Prieta, is a much smaller town, which could make it harder for you to find a job there.) I have never felt in any way threatened during our visits.
Which brings me to another point: I don’t think that being white is going to be much of an issue. In fact, being a US citizen can be something of a badge of safety. It’s said that cartels instruct their minions not to mess with foreigners because tourist/expat deaths tend to bring on the wrath of the Mexican government. (Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but I can confidently say that cartels are much less likely to target a foreigner.)
I hope all this information doesn’t freak you out. I just drove 6,500 miles through Mexico last year. I felt safe and had a great time. The country is amazing and has a lot to offer. I wish you and your family the best of luck and happiness. We’d love to hear from you again if you have any advice/stories based on your experience.