Yankee! Welcome to Mexico!

New factories bring prosperity and controversy to the border

Only 15 years ago, Mexico's Ciudad Juarez was little more than a depressed backwater of El Paso, Texas. Today things are, to put it mildly, different. Factories in booming Juarez (pop. 1.1 million) are assembling everything from computer keyboards to windshield wipers for companies throughout the U.S. Meanwhile, unemployment in El Paso (pop. 547,000), where oil refining and clothing are major industries, has risen from 17,500 in 1980 to nearly 23,000 in March.

Why the dramatic change? The main answer is maquiladoras, a Spanish term for the mostly U.S.-owned light-assembly industry that is flourishing along the Mexican side of the border...