UA Journalists Report on Border Towns Along 110th Meridian
"Bordering 110 Degrees," a project reported and produced by UA journalism students, explores and investigates the relationship between two key points along the country’s southern and northern borders. The team has just won two awards for the project.

UA School of Journalism
May 26, 2017


At the southernmost part of the Canamex Corridor sits the border community of Ambos Nogales in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. A rust-colored steel barrier divides the two cities.
At the southernmost part of the Canamex Corridor sits the border community of Ambos Nogales in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. A rust-colored steel barrier divides the two cities. (Photo: Amanda Oien)

Between the grass hills and yellow fields of grazing bison lies the small, binational community made up of Sweet Grass, Montana, and Coutts, Alberta.  

About 1,530 miles south of that U.S.-Canada border community, along the longitudinal line known as the 110th meridian, are Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, forming the community known as Ambos Nogales along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alhough the two border communities are far in distance and vastly different from each other, their location along the 110th meridian is not the only thing they share.

Both communities represent two U.S. points that make up the region included in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Yet, in recent geopolitics and the most recent presidential campaign, the U.S.-Mexico border has been a hot topic of discussion, while the U.S.-Canada border has been absent from the political and media landscape.

To explore issues related to both borders, a group of 10 University of Arizona School of Journalism students enrolled in the U.S.-Mexico Border reporting class. Journalism professor Celeste González de Bustamante and journalism multimedia professor Michael McKisson assisted with the project, involving students Brenna Bailey, Maritza Dominguez, Mark Flores, Jennifer Hijazi, Erik Kolsrud, Genesis Lara, Chastity Laskey, Julia Leon, Amanda Oien and Stephen Oliver.

Each student produced multimedia stories, which included drone footage, 360-degree video, audio and in-depth reporting that focused on the people who live and work along the meridian during a time of political transition.

The project gained first place nationally in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's Best of the Web competition. The project will be presented during the association's conference in Chicago in August.

The team also placed in the Hearst Team Multimedia Competition Top 20.

Here are some of the group's findings.

Perceptions Shift Along Northern and Southern Borders

Brenna Bailey, a third-year journalism student, talked with residents along the northern and southern border communities to understand how the different communities perceive immigrants. Bailey found that residents along the two borders have vastly different views on immigration, which could be due to the sheer numbers of unauthorized immigrants arriving from Mexico. A summary of her work:

Around 5.8 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants (most of whom probably entered the country from Mexico via the southern border) resided in the U.S. in 2014, according to Pew Research Center estimates. Only around 100,000 unauthorized Canadian immigrants (most of whom probably entered from Canada via the northern border) lived here during the same year.

Residents along the Sweet Grass/Coutts border don't think of immigration as an issue and rarely run into a migrant trying to cross the border. Yet their views on immigration lean in favor of conservative media reports.

Contrastingly, the people from Nogales express a more humane view toward immigration.

Bailey interviewed Cesar Leyva, an unauthorized immigrant removed from the U.S. in 2015. Leyva, a Mexican national, resided in the U.S. for 13 years on a 10-year tourist visa. Leyva, an entrepreneur and taxpayer, is the father to a U.S. citizen, a son he might never again be able to visit in the States.

Additionally, Bailey interviewed Tex and MJ Gilbertson, Coutts locals who spend their winters along the U.S.-Mexico border and have seen both sides of the border and immigration issues.

Through in-depth reporting, Bailey compares the different perceptions people have of immigrants in the border towns, and she reports on the way immigrants such as Leyva feel that they are perceived.

Border Ranchers in for the Long Haul

Chastity Laskey is a double major in journalism and communication, news editor at the Arizona Daily Wildcat and a features apprentice at the Arizona Daily Star. She has interned with Madden Media and Tucson Weekly. She explained:

Dan Bell's ranch, ZZ Cattle Corporation, is right on the border. The former president of the Arizona Cattlemen's Association said he is concerned about the intentions of people who travel on his property.

Not far from Bell's ranch, about 25 miles north of the Arizona-Sonora line, cattle graze on Jon and Peggy Rowley's 30,000-acre ranch. The Rowley family has cared for the land and its cattle since 1951, but things have changed over the past five decades.

Peggy Rowley said she no longer goes out on the ranch by herself to do tasks that she never would have thought twice about doing 10 years ago. "It's really scary when you drive up and there's a whole group of them sleeping under a tree and you scare them and they scare you," she said.

Trash left by migrants can be a problem for the environment as well as the cattle. Rowley said she recently encountered a calf that had an aluminum can wrapped around its ankle, just above its hoof. When this happens, it can cause injury, leading to vet visits — and money lost.

"Laws are laws, borders are borders. They need to design a plan that keeps our country safe and helps immigrants who wish to come to this country to better themselves and make us a better nation," Rowley said.

Many vendors at farmers markets sell as a hobby, perhaps as a way to make a little extra money from their gardens or crafts. Not Maria Elena Mendel. Necessity drives her to set up her stand of soaps and jewelry at the Nogales Mercado Farmers Market.

"I do not get discouraged if I don't sell," Mendel said. "The most important thing for the customers to know is that we are there every Friday."

Having survived three years, Nogales' open-air market has had a rough time taking off. Given that the area surrounding Nogales, Arizona, is considered a "food desert" — a place where access to fresh fruits and vegetables and whole foods is scarce — by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one might assume that this would be an ideal place to sell local produce and handmade goods. But that hasn't been the case. 

Growing a Farmers Market in Nogales

Erik Kolsrud was born in Phoenix and now resides in Tucson. He is studying journalism with a minor in Spanish and hopes to one day go to law school. His work in journalism includes stints at the Arizona Daily Wildcat and FC Tucson. He explained:

There are several obstacles that stand in the way of growing the Nogales Mercado.

There's the weigh-station effect. Billions of pounds of produce come through Nogales from Mexico, but the produce doesn't stay here. The Nogales port of entry is one of the busiest in terms of produce entering the United States. According to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, between 2015 and 2016, 6.3 billion pounds of produce came through the port, but it was shipped off to other parts of the country.

Produce that didn't transport well is often donated to Nogales food banks, where it is then distributed to members of the community. In other words, why should someone buy at a farmers market when they can get produce for free?

As Nogales resident Mary Darling explained: "Why should I go to a farmers market and buy peppers for a dollar a bag, when I can get a box for nothing and share with my neighbors?"

Still, vendors congregate in a parking lot next to the train tracks at Morley Avenue and Court Street, setting up tents and selling their wares from 3 to 6 p.m. every Friday. Darling said that's a little late in the day for many residents.

"By the time the Mercado is there and up and running, people are ready to go home," she said. "It's a long day for everyone up here."

A lack of transportation is another problem, according to Darcy Dixon, Santa Cruz County extension director for the UA Cooperative Extension office.

"Transportation is a huge issue here," Dixon said. "Not everyone has cars."

Read more about these, and other projects, online:

Extra info

To read the full stories and to learn more about the "Bordering 110 Degrees" project, see the project online at


Resources for the media

Mike Chesnick

UA School of Journalism