El Paso, Texas – Gazing out his office window, El Paso mayor John Cook enjoys a clear view across the U.S.–Mexican border into Ciudad Juárez, birthplace of the famous maquiladora factories, where thousands of Mexicans are employed assembling products for export to the United States. In years past, residents of his West Texas city went there to dine at tasty restaurants and party at beer-soaked dance clubs. Today the once-vibrant manufacturing hub is being ripped apart by savage drug violence. Its celebrated nightlife, which long served as a tourist magnet, has been extinguished by deadly gun battles between competing gangs and cartels. Cook reckons that every Juárez business owner who has survived the brutality either is paying extortion money or has left town.
Yet as the mayor proudly attests, the Rio Grande separates the most dangerous city in Mexico (and perhaps the world) from one of the least dangerous cities in the United States. In the first six months of 2010, Juárez experienced more than 1,300 homicides. Over that same period, El Paso experienced one, a murder-suicide. According to the latest CQ Press rankings of America’s safest cities with more than 500,000 people, El Paso is second only to Honolulu.