Maquiladoras in Ciudad Acuña; source: cfmaquiladoras.org

Maquiladoras in Ciudad Acuña; source: cfmaquiladoras.org

See Part 1- Introduction

See Part 2-The urbanization of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez

See Part 3A-New Shaping influences

See Part 3B-New Shaping Influences


The border

In the past three decades the US-Mexico border has been one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions in the world. The border is now a dynamic region of major metropolitan centers, large-scale businesses and economic institutions whose influence goes beyond the border zone.[1] This concentration of people along the world’s most frequented international border has resulted in a peculiar aspect of interdependence. At a local level we can see examples of firemen from one side responding to emergencies on the other side. For example, Tijuana hospitals send shuttle buses to San Diego to transport patients to Mexico.[2] With regards to the urban landscapes, development and infrastructure on one side of the border have transboundary impacts and lead to a responding condition on the other side. ”.[3] As a result, one needs to acknowledge the borderland as a dynamic zone of transborder exchange and interaction; people and products, ideas and information, capital and technology move relatively freely along the border. The growth of cities along the border can be viewed as human constructs that reflect inherent cross-border ties, eclipsing the functions of the political boundary.

 By 1930s El Paso was the most important border city, with a population over 100,000.  The Great Depression brought a downturn as President Lazaro Cardenas abolished many “sin industries” in 1935. Nevertheless, WWII lifted the border economies once again.  In 1942, due to the high demand in manual labor in the U.S., the Bracero Program issued identity cards to Mexicans who wished to work in the US. Although the 1954 anti-immigrant backlash returned thousands of workers south of the border, four million workers had participated in the Bracero program by its end in 1960.[4] This incited a large urban growth in the area; El Paso grew to over a quarter of a million people by 1960.

 In the early 1960s, a wave of investments on “offshore” production took form in the United States. Two US Tariff Code provisions were established through the Tariff Classification Act of 1962 to allow duty-free entry of North America components assembled outside U.S. boundaries.[5] Recognizing that US firms were relocating labor-intensive operations overseas, the Mexican government established the Border Industrialization Program (BIP) in 1965. The Border Industrial Program was created in Mexico to help relieve unemployment in border cities. It was part of National Strategy to strengthen the border region economy. The Program created duty-free industrial zones in the 2,000-mile wide, 12-mile-deep strip on the Mexican side of the border with the United States. The goal was to increase trade between the countries and provide jobs to former Braceros.

Maquiladoras, Tijuanas; source: intranetlab.org

Maquiladoras, Tijuanas; source: intranetlab.org

As multinational firms profited from “offshore” production concepts that the U.S. had already started in other places, the maquiladora industry was born in northern Mexico. Two thirds of the maquilas were established in Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juarez”.[6] In 1970, there were 160 maquiladoras in Mexico, employing close to 200,000 workers. Twenty-five years later the number grew to an estimated 2,400 assembly plants employing an estimated three-quarter million workers.[7] 


Under the Maquila Decree, first established in 1989, foreign companies were allowed to operate factories in Mexico and to import goods and equipment used for duty-free, as long as the finished products were exported out of Mexico.[8] With the Border Industrialization Program of 1965, maquiladoras emerged. The proximity to the United States has allowed hundreds of American manufacturing companies to take advantage of this policy, which was originally designed to create new employment opportunities along the border after the U.S. ended the Bracero program.

As the number of maquiladoras has increased so has their profile and industry target. In 1969 a quarter of the maquiladoras output was textile and other light industrial goods, now automobile parts are assembled in maquiladoras in Ciudad Juarez. These changes have also affected the industrial landscapes of the border cities. Today’s maquiladoras are large elaborate installations located in the peripheries of the cities that contrast with small, converted older building used before. Although all border cities have maquiladoras, only larger cities, such as Ciudad Juarez, have actual industrial parks. In Ciudad Juarez, five industrial parks have been identified. They are strategically located on the periphery of the cities, along major highways, close to border crossings.

In addition, the implementation of NAFTA in 2004 has been a driving force behind the multibillion industry it is today. When NAFTA lifted the barriers between Canada, the US, and Mexico, the flow of goods across the borders increased as well as foreign investment. Since its implementation, trade between the two countries has grown from 89.5 billion in 1993 to 275.4 billion in 2004.[9]

The maquiladoras legitimized the border region as a place for foreign investment, and anchored other real estate investments bringing roads, sewage and other infrastructure.

source: infraetlab.org

source: infraetlab.org

Maquiladoras on the northern Mexican side of the border usually lead to the creation of a twin plant facility on the US side of the border.  The twin plants support the maquiladora production by supplying minor inputs in the production process and are mostly engaged in the distribution and information processes. This is important because it has an impact on the type of facilities that are constructed and the employment opportunities that are available on both sides of the border

Colonia; source: lakeforest.edu

Colonia; source: lakeforest.edu

TO COME: Border, Maquiladoas and Colonias, Part 2

RELATED READING: Subtopia: Maquilapolis

[1] Herzog, Lawrence. Where North Meets South: Cities, Space and Politics on the U.S.-Mexico Border. P. 9

[2] Romero. Hyper-Border, The Contemporary U.S.-Mexico Border and its Future. P. 95

[3] Herzog, Lawrence. Where North Meets South: Cities, Space and Politics on the U.S.-Mexico Border. P. 140

[4] Dear, Micheal. “Altered States: The US-Mexico Borderlands as “Third Nation””. P.84

[5] Herzog, Lawrence. Where North Meets South: Cities, Space and Politics on the U.S.-Mexico Border. P. 163

[6] Dear, Micheal. “Altered States: The US-Mexico Borderlands as “Third Nation””. P.85

[7] Herzog in Dear, Michael. Postborder City. P. 122

[8] Romero. Hyper-Border, The Contemporary U.S.-Mexico Border and its Future. P. 100

[9] Romero. Hyper-Border, The Contemporary U.S.-Mexico Border and its Future. P. 201

3 thoughts on “URBAN STRADDLING ::: Borders, Maquiladoras and Colonias

  1. Pingback: BORDER STRADDLING :: NEW SHAPING INFLUENCES_B [part 3] | {FAVEL issues}

  2. Pingback: Border, Maquiladoas and Colonias, Part 2 | {FAVEL issues}

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