Family and friends gather around the body of 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, who was killed by a Border Patrol agent. Image by Dominic Bracco. Mexico, 2011.

The 9/11 terror attacks changed America’s view of the world forever. While much of the focus was on the Middle East, the 9/11 aftermath has had a profound effect on one of our closest neighbors—Mexico.

“We as Mexicans became the enemy. After September 11, they sealed the border, built a wall, and began persecuting immigrants and justified it as a problem of security. This perspective became an excuse for everything,” said Sandra Rodriguez, an investigative reporter for Ciudad Juarez’s largest newspaper El Diario.

When security was tightened along the Mexican border, the effects were felt not only in the border region, but also deep within both countries.

Each border shutdown has brought an increase in drug use in Mexican cities, mainly because it became more difficult for cartels to move drugs north. Ciudad Juarez is the hardest hit, with drug gangs and authorities fighting for control of a region where some estimates place the number of addicts in the tens of thousands.

“The domestic drug consumption in Juarez has always been huge, but it increased substantially after 9/11. Before it was more situated in the center of town. Now almost every neighborhood has street sellers,” says Howard Campbell, an anthropology and sociology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who studies organized crime in Ciudad Juarez.

According to Rodriguez, the instant impact on the city was economic as wait times at border crossings became longer.

“Juarez is a city that completely relies on U.S. commerce. The decline killed the city. Almost. We lost about 100,000 jobs. It was the beginning of the economic collapse. We never recovered,” she said.

In the United States, post-9/11 border issues permeate the entire country. Deportations have risen in the decade following the attacks and state governments have made their own policies in the name of security. Most notorious was Arizona’s controversial immigration reform, which was followed later by non-border states such as Virginia and Alabama.

A report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that 1.6 million people were deported in the decade before 9/11 and that number jumped to 2.3 million in the decade after.

Campbell, who has lived on the border for 20 years, reflects on how El Paso changed after 9/11.

“Before going to Juarez was just like going to another neighborhood in El Paso. After 9/11 everything started tightening up. After awhile going to Juarez just became a hassle,” he said.

Project

Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, has become the murder capital of the world. Most vulnerable are Los Ninis, young men and women who earned their name from “ni estudian, ni trabajan”—those who neither work nor study.

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