We run a vacation rental business down in Tubac, and noticed we haven’t even had a call or an email in a few weeks inquiring about our accommodations.
Last winter and through April we had great guests from as far away as Canada and Massachusetts.
Then it got really quiet. Maybe this was just the summer slump a lot of tourism oriented businesses suffer from here, we thought at first.
This is our first season in the tourist business. But we were not even getting calls about next winter, which we had been getting until the SB 1070 flap exploded across the nation.
So, after making a few calls, we learned a surprising thing: people don’t think it is safe to visit Southern Arizona, especially as close to the border as we are (20 miles).
Pictures of armed drug smugglers carrying automatic weapons (courtesy of the Pinal County Sheriff), the murder of Douglas rancher Robert Krentz, and the flash bang national news coverage of Arizona’s immigration problem has convinced many that Arizona is a war zone.
Wait just a minute.
Sure, there are some areas right near the border no one wants to venture into at night. But I can think of lots of places in Los Angeles, New York City and other big cities where I wouldn’t want to drive around at night. But that doesn’t stop me from going to LA or New York or wherever.
The city of Nogales, for example, which is right on the border, has one of the lowest crime rates in the state. There hasn’t been a drive by shooting in Nogales…ever. Rarely does a week go by when there’s one of those in Tucson.
The presence of the Border Patrol in some areas frightens visitors because they think, “with that many Border Patrol there must be a problem”. Nope. We just have a lot of Border Patrol running around the Tubac area because they seem to think this is the way to stop illegal immigration by staying 20 miles away from the border and driving through our neighborhoods where they are unlikely going to find uncodumented workers.
Interestingly, after the vistors have been here a few days, they begin to understand the immigration problem and the border. The stereotypes are replaced by reality. This is good for the national debate. The more people who actually see and experience our border, the more people will support BOTH a concentration of Border Patrol at the border, and some sane immigration law reform.
I actually run a “border tour” taking vistors through the checkpoint, out to ARivaca, down Ruby Road to Nogales and back. I ask them to count the Border Patrol they see. By the time they have been through this, they get it about why our border is broken. And their fear is gone because they’ve been to the border and it didn’t bite them.
During the entire season, not a single one of our visitors encountered an undocumented worker heading north. They don’t walk through the middle of the town, and you don’t find them on the Anza Trail and other places during the day, either.
Sure, at night we sometimes see more undocumented workers passing through the area than you might in Tucson. But that has always been the case. The folks seeking work mean us no harm, and bien viaje. The only problem is the increase of plastic water bottles left behind at specific locations on our trails. We use them as “teaching moments” on hikes.
A lot of businesses really need Arizona’s Republicans to find some other issue to beat on Democrats besides immigration.
We’ve gotten enough attention about the failure of the US government and Congress to deal with the immigration issue.
We don’t need to create the image that tourists are at some kind of risk from attack by undocumented workers who are probably headed to where our visitors live the rest of the year.