Samantha Sais
December 2, 2012

When the copper smelters closed, the jobs dried up and the people who used to sustain the small shops along this border city’s commercial strips left to find work elsewhere, the Ortega family looked toward the neighbor to the south, Agua Prieta, Mexico, for a new clientele.

On the north side, Douglas, Ariz., businesses have struggled or failed, particularly since the American government stopped issuing visas in Agua Prieta about two years ago.

For decades, catering to Mexicans had been a reliable business plan for the Ortegas and many other store owners here, a multigenerational band of believers who have been around too long to give up. But the tight border enforcement prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks — and amplified by the harsh realities and language of drug violence and illegal immigration — gradually made it harder to get across the border legally, then too much of a bother, and finally a discomfiting waste of time.

Like the copper smelter workers, the Mexicans, little by little, also began to disappear.

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