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UA professor examines dynamic nature of the border region


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Reasa Haggard
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
July 19, 2000
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

Illegal border crossings not the only complex issue of the

The U.S.-Mexico border region has been capturing national attention with the standoff between ranchers on the U.S. side and the influx of illegal Mexican entrants.

However, Diana Liverman, director of University of Arizona Latin American studies department, said the border area serves as a host to many complex issues.

"The border region is one of the most environmentally stressed areas in the world, posing many problems for both the United States and Mexico, especially for the people who live in the region," stated Liverman in her article, "Environmental Issues Along the United States Mexico Border: Drivers of Change and Responses of Citizens and Institutions."

A limited water supply, greater economic development and an increasing population are just a few reasons this area is so fragile.

"Another thing that makes it so stressed is because it is where the more developed and less developed come together rather dramatically," Liverman said.

Water shortage is a major issue for people who live around the border because agricultural irrigation, communities and industries all place demands on the limited supply. As a result, there is competition over rivers shared by the two countries, such as the San Pedro and Santa Cruz. The quality of the water also poses a problem.

"The Santa Cruz is very threatened by pollution and use," Liverman said.

Greater economic development is a major contributor in polluting the water sources.

"Water sampling has revealed high levels of toxic substances, such as volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, in rivers and wells downstream of industrial facilities in Nogales and Mexicali," stated Liverman in her article.

However, people should not make generalizations about the manufacturing and assembly plants, more commonly known as maquiladoras, Liverman said.

There has been a great deal of controversy about the pollution caused by the maquiladoras, their pay rates and working conditions.

"Groups say that companies are exploiting their workers by paying them $2 an hour. The other side of the issue is that in rural Mexico, $2 looks pretty good," Liverman said.

The maquiladoras are very important to Mexico's economy and employ more than half a million people. The availability of jobs offered by the maquiladoras attracts many people to the border region.

Tucson is strongly affected by border issues, Liverman said.

"Tucson has strong economic links to Mexico, particularly the border. Environmental health, the link between environmental conditions and infectious diseases, particularly mosquito born diseases, could have a potentially large effect on this area," she said.

"People are concerned that Mexico will be a breeding ground for malaria and dengue. In the poor colonias, they do not have proper drainage during the monsoon," she added.

As a result, many non-governmental agencies and government agencies are taking measures to address such problems.

Liverman and other members of the faculty from the UA participate in an the Annual Conferences on the U.S.-Mexico Border Environment. These conferences bring together community members and leaders, students, government officials, academics and business people to discuss a variety of perspectives on key border issues.

As far as the issue of the angry ranchers go, she said the problem has a long history.

"I sympathize with the landowners, there is a lot of trash that is left behind," she said.

"I think the deeper solution is not to terrorize the people crossing the border. They are desperate, otherwise they would not try to cross," Liverman added.

She thinks that the reasons people are trying to cross should be addressed. One of those reasons is a result of the Guest Worker Program that ran from 1942-1964 and issued 4.6 million temporary work permits to Mexicans to come to the United States.

"Many people never went back (to Mexico) or they established good working relations so they just keep coming back," says Liverman.

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