Thousands of years ago, before European explorers ever dreamed of sailing across the Atlantic, Nogales was part of an ancient travel and trade route that led to the Gulf of California. Along this route, goods were traded with people from distant cultures of the Southwest, especially California and northern Mexico.
At a narrow point in the valley was what would later be called Nogales Pass, where travelers would move through the mountains of the Sonoran Desert.
During the Spanish Period the route was called El Camino Real (The King’s Highway). It’s where regiments of armor-clad Conquistadors traveled north through the valley in search of precious metals and gems. Later, missions were built by Spanish colonials as protection against Apache raids. You can still see these mission along the valley’s landscape.
With the Gadsden Purchase agreement the United States purchased for $10 million a 29,670 square mile portion of Mexico that later became the southern part of Arizona and New Mexico. This tract of desert land was a critical transportation corridor for U.S. for industrial commercial expansion to the West Coast. For Ambos Nogales, the Gadsden Purchase bisected Nogales into the two different settlements of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.
Nogales Pass had, for years, been a favorite stopping point by travellers along the Guaymas-Tucson stage route. It was a Russian immigrant and San Francisco merchant named Jacob Isaacson who planted the first roots of international trade in Nogales when he set up a trading post on the American side of the border. He is credited with the city’s founding. Juan Jose Vasquez followed suit with a roadside house on the Sonoran side.
Isaacson was drawn to the location because of the stage route and the opportunity to “serve the needs of the passing public in a business way.” A man of vision, he anticipated the impact the railroad would have if the final route went through Nogales Pass. Later in the summer of 1881, construction of the railroad line south along the Nogales Wash began.
The biggest boost to the local economy came in 1882 with the arrival of two completed railroads, one international and on domestic. The Santa Fe railroad connected with the Sonoran railroad in Nogales multiplying the opportunities for business partnerships. Bot Mexican and American merchants scrambled to establish businesses close to the border to take advantage of the railroad and the opportunity for tax-free trade.
Nogales, Arizona was incorporated in 1893 within Santa Cruz County. This will lead to further development of the transportation and logistics hub.
With the Treaty of Amity and Commerce signed by China and Mexico in 1899 and the establishment of direct steamship travel between Hong Kong and Mexico in 1902, Nogales became flooded with illegal traffic.
Known today as the DeConcini Port of Entry, the Nogales Grand Avenue border station was opened in 1903. Nogales was identified as an important trade and travel corridor with the arrival of transcontinental rail in 1882.
In 1900, there were just a few thousand Chinese in Mexico; less than a decade later, almost 60,000 Chinese migrants had departed for Mexico. Some stayed, but the U.S. was a far more attractive destination. In 1907, a U.S. Government investigator observed that as many as 50 Chinese arrived daily by train in the border town of Juarez, yet the Chinese community in the town never grew.
Parts of the Grand Canyon–Nogales Highway were designated U.S. Route 380 (south of Tucson) and U.S. Route 280 (between Phoenix and Ash Fork), while a new highway from Flagstaff to Fredonia, on the Utah border, was designated U.S. Route 89. Soon the 380 and 280 numbers were dropped, and the entire highway from Nogales to Fredonia was made part of U.S. Route 89, which eventually would connect Mexico and Canada.
In 1905, the first rail car carrying fresh produce from Mexico crossed the border at Nogales. Years later, the West Mexico Vegetable Distributors Association was formed in 1944 to strengthen the industry. After NAFTA was passed in 1994, the produce distributors group changed its name to Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. This name changed a more global view of the industry, better reflecting the efforts of its member companies.
What was the former Highway 89 began to be replaced by Interstate 19, accommodating more traffic to travel south to Nogales and connect with Mexican Federal Highway 25. This improved transportation would accelerate access to U.S. markets for Mexican produce and manufacturing.
With the demise of the Bracero program in 1964–a program that provided work authorization for Mexican farm workers in the United States–a Border Industrialization Program was created by the Mexican government, incentivizing foreign companies to manufacture products in northern Mexico. The Program was created in response to unemployment in Mexico’s northern border region. Companies could enter Mexico with 100 percent of their own capital and inexpensive labor in Mexico. Of note, the first Maquiladora opened in Nogales, Sonora, just across the US-Mexico border from Nogales, AZ. (demonstrates cooperation and enterprise)
By 2000, approximately 1.3 million workers were employed in the maquiladora industry. The assembly-manufacturing sector had become one of the main drivers, if not the main driver, of the Mexican border economy. Ambos Nogales was at the forefront of this new economic industrialization program, leveraging the long-standing relationships of the region.
In response to the growth of maquiladora plants in Mexico, the Nogales-Mariposa Arizona Port of Entry was opened to accommodate large volumes of truck traffic in 1973, diverting increased truck traffic away from the busy downtown Grand Avenue border crossing and provide a second truck crossing. All commercial traffic entering the United States at Nogales entered through the Mariposa port of entry.
The Mariposa POE opened for commercial traffic in 1976 and expanded to handle passenger-only vehicles in 1983. The Mariposa POE has grown from a modest beginning to an important entry point from Mexico into the U.S. In particular, the significant level of agricultural imports is a distinctive feature of the Mariposa POE. Regional population growth, increased law enforcement activities and national security requirements have all further contributed to the demands on the Mariposa POE’s capacities.
Originally designed to handle 400 trucks daily with an expected utility life of 25 to 30 years, the facility now handles up to 1,300 trucks a day during peak season. Since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, the number of northbound commercial truck crossings per year grew from 190,000 to over 280,000 in 2006. These crossings have also increased greatly in terms of value and weight. In 2007, the facility processed imports into the U.S. worth $8.4 billion with a weight of 6.26 billion pounds. Currently, the Mariposa POE processes 6.1 percent of the total value of imports from Mexico by truck.
Initially passage of NAFTA eroded the Maquila system, first established in Ambos Nogales in 1967. Later, with the rising cost of energy, near shoring gained prominence in the region during the global recession around 2010. Today the collaborative manufacturing relationship with Ambos Nogales is alive and well. The collaborative manufacturing relationship with Ambos Nogales is thriving with more than 110+ maquila plants in Nogales, Sonora and over 60 aerospace-related manufacturing plants in the state of Sonora.
The Nogales Port Authority was formed in 2004 by local business people and spearheaded efforts to build the FAST lanes at Mariposa starting in 2005. This effort led to securing $13.7 million in 2007 to pay for the design phase of the Reconfiguration project.
In 2009, Nogales received approximately $200 million to pay for the Mariposa construction phase of the Reconfiguration Project lead by the General Services Administration (GSA). The upgrade is anticipated to more than double the throughput capacity for inspection of both goods and people. Arizona State University Researchers forecast this volume to double by 2025.
The Port was completed in 2014 and incorporated the latest in design and technology to create a state of the art facility.
In April of 2010, the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” introduced as Arizona Senate Bill 1070, was the signed into law setting into motion the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration act in recent U.S. history.
U.S. federal law required all aliens over the age of 14 who remained in the United States for longer than 30 days to register with the U.S. government and to have registration documents in their possession at all times; violation of this requirement was a federal misdemeanor crime. The Arizona Act additionally made it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required documents. It required that state law enforcement officers attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest,” or during a “lawful contact” not specific to any activity when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal immigrant.
Receiving national and international attention it fueled perceptions that border communities in the Arizona were not safe for Americans or Mexicans to visit. Nogales experienced a sharp decrease in retail business as a direct result of SB 1070. As a result, Nogales is actively reformulating its future.
In 2011, the first Mexican trucks purchased overweight permits for long-haul trucks and crossed the U.S. border, fulfilling a controversial provision of the 1994 North American Free Trade Act. NAFTA called for Mexican trucks to be allowed to travel beyond a six- to 25-mile wide “commercial zone” in the United States by December of 1995 without a special permit to do so. But concerns about safety of Mexican trucks delayed the provision from taking place.
The weight limit was increased from 80,000 to a 97,000-pound limit by Arizona Department of Transportation. Benefits to Nogales include:
As one of General Services Administration’s (GSA) largest American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects, expansion and modernization of the port enables the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection to move people, materials and information efficiently and securely across the U.S.-Mexico border. The project also will significantly impact the local economy.
The Mariposa Land Port of Entry is one of the busiest land ports in the United States. It is Arizona’s largest gateway for international trade with more than $20 billion of imports and exports, close to 300,000 trucks, 450,000 pedestrians and over 1.2 million cars per year. The Mariposa POE serves as the largest port of entry for fresh produce (45 percent of U.S. winter consumption of the fresh produce) entering the United States from Mexico and the primary produce distribution point on the southern border. Nogales is the only place where the U.S. I-10/ I-19 corridor meets the ever-growing commerce on Mexico’s highway 15. Currently, there are more than 110 maquila plants in Nogales, Sonora, and over 60 aerospace-related manufacturing plants in the state of Sonora.