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Despair, optimism on the border

LAS CRUCES – Border residents met the victory of President-elect Donald Trump with a mix of despair and optimism amid uncertainty over how much of his harsh campaign rhetoric will translate into policy.

As the peso hit historic lows against the dollar and the Mexican government said it will not pay for a border wall, New Mexicans and Mexicans reflected on what a Trump presidency will mean for an intertwined region where residents on both sides often say they have more in common with each other than with their respective nations.

At Carlos Bakery in Sunland Park – not far from where a new 18-foot steel fence is going up at the border – customers waited in line for burritos and chicharrón. Owner Jesusita Juárez said her mostly immigrant clientele is having a mixed reaction to Trump’s election.

“Some are scared,” said Juárez, who voted for Trump. “Some are saying, ‘ni modo,’ ” – oh, well.

In Santa Teresa, members of the Border Industrial Association discussed what Trump’s surprise win could mean for the more than 100 New Mexico businesses that export to or support trade with Mexico.

Trump has promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trade deal in place since 1994 that forms the bedrock of the border economy, underpinned by more than $580 billion in trade between the United States and Mexico annually. In New Mexico, exports to Mexico have surged more than 350 percent over the past three years, said Jerry Pacheco, president of the Border Industrial Association.

“The U.S. and Mexico have such an intertwined relationship,” Pacheco said. “For someone to get in there and try to unravel (it), that is going to be very hard.”

Pacheco said he did not support Trump but sees “a tremendous opportunity” for southern New Mexico “to demonstrate how cross-border cooperation, cross-border planning, cross-border trade can function. We will be the physical evidence to refute that the Mexican relationship is a bad thing, that we are losing jobs when we are creating jobs on our side of the border.”

Trump’s victory “is going to obligate Mexico to become more sophisticated in its relationship with the U.S.,” said Keith Boone, a media mogul and real estate investor who owns a large tract of land planned for industrial development across the border from Santa Teresa.

Boone, who has dual citizenship and voted for Trump, said, “I think Trump is saying ‘U.S. first,’ but I don’t see that Mexico is going to be out of the equation. People are saying, ‘We’re going to take this as an opportunity to raise our game and set some new rules to elevate both sides.’ ”

Overnight, the Mexican peso nose-dived on the news of Trump’s election, and along Juárez Avenue in Ciudad Juárez near the international bridge, currency exchange houses were selling the dollar at 22 pesos or more – a low not seen since the devaluation crisis of the 1990s. A weak peso makes it more expensive for Mexicans to shop on the U.S. side and raises everything from food to rent in the dollar-driven economy in Ciudad Juárez.

Nearby at the storied Kentucky Club – a bar popular with locals and American tourists alike – the waiters were in a somber mood Wednesday, worried about their countrymen in the U.S. and shocked by the xenophobia they believe helped fuel Trump’s win.

Ever Cuellar, 25, juiced oranges behind the bar and said he took Trump’s rhetoric about Mexicans, and the election result, personally.

“We didn’t think they” – Americans – “hated us so much,” he said.

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