A sign’s letters depict popular sites and features found in Ciudad Juárez. The historic Museum of the Revolution and Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral can be seen in the background. Photo courtesy of ConGen Ciudad Juarez
By Caroline Schneider
Ciudad Juárez (or simply Juárez), Mexico, and its sister city of El Paso, Texas, exemplify the deep familial and cultural ties that bind Mexico and the United States. In addition to a complex heritage, the cities share economic, environmental, and security challenges, as well as mutual prospects for a bright future.
The U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez promotes American interests in Chihuahua, Mexico’s largest state. Approximately the size of Wyoming, Chihuahua features a biologically diverse high desert in the north, gorges that rival the Grand Canyon in size, and rich agricultural pastures and indigenous lands in the west and south. Chihuahua enjoys extensive cross-border trade with the United States, low unemployment, and a large manufacturing-for-export sector at the heart of post-pandemic nearshoring efforts. With 11 land ports of entry, Chihuahua benefits from its proximity to the United States, supporting large-scale production facilities for premier American companies, including Boeing, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, Lexmark, Ford, Lear, and Bell Helicopter. More than 3.7 million people live throughout Chihuahua’s 67 municipalities. Nearly 40%—or 1.5 million of them—live in Ciudad Juárez.
Ciudad Juárez is located astride the U.S.-Mexican border, where the Rocky Mountains meet the Chihuahuan Desert. The biggest of the United States’ nine consulates in Mexico, ConGen Ciudad Juárez has the largest immigrant visa operation in the world. Its consular district stretches along roughly one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The El Paso del Norte region has served as a key trade route and human crossroads for nearly 400 years and remains an essential hub for bilateral trade and investment. It also finds itself at what some media outlets have termed “ground zero” for recent migration surges. An important mountain passage and watering point on the historic silver route between Santa Fe and Mexico City, or El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, Ciudad Juárez was founded by Franciscan friars in 1659 as El Paso del Norte and renamed in 1888 in honor of former President Benito Juárez, who established his government in exile in Chihuahua during the French intervention in Mexico.
Although the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and established the Rio Grande as the international boundary, border conflict continued for a century due to periodic flooding and shifting of the Rio Grande. The dispute was eventually resolved through arbitration by the International Boundary and Water Commission, the 1963 Chamizal Convention, the 1964 meeting of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Adolfo López Mateos, and the 1967 formal proclamation at the border of the settlement by Presidents Johnson and Díaz Ordaz. The final agreement included a land exchange and a binational cost-sharing arrangement to build the Rio Grande Canal, which permanently defined the border, and three new international bridges.
It also resulted in the creation of Chamizal public parks in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. As part of this year’s U.S.-Mexico bicentennial commemoration, park managers signed a sister parks arrangement to expand cross-border educational and environmental programming. The binational Chamizal area remains a symbol of the enduring U.S.-Mexico partnership and the power of diplomacy to peacefully resolve land disputes.
Ciudad Juárez and the state of Chihuahua’s welcoming binational culture offers a high quality of life, with excellent food, shopping, museums, and entertainment options; quality health care; and easy access to travel. Most Chihuahuan cities have soccer and baseball teams. Ciudad Juárez fans cheer on the Bravos and Bravas (soccer) and Indios (baseball), as well as the El Paso Locomotive FC (soccer), Chihuahuas (baseball), and Rhinos (hockey). The consulate is roughly 20 minutes from El Paso, a thriving U.S. city of more than 670,000 people. Ciudad Juárez has a high desert climate, with four distinct seasons. Summer highs routinely exceed 100 degrees, while winter lows can dip below freezing, resulting in occasional snowfall. Colder mountain weather and skiing are two hours away by car. Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Tucson, and Phoenix are also within reasonable driving distance. Destinations across North America are easily accessible via the Ciudad Juárez and El Paso international airports.
The state of Chihuahua offers great tourism and culinary options, starting with its contributions to Mexican cuisine, which UNESCO has inscribed as part of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Ciudad Juárez claims to be the birthplace of the burrito and the margarita, both of which locals have elevated to new heights. The region is known for its lucha libre wrestling, pachuco dancing, distinct indigenous textiles, Mata Ortiz pottery, and public street art. Arts and holiday festivals, street fairs, and farmers’ markets are common throughout the state. Chihuahua is home to impressive spots such as the Paquimé pre-Columbian archaeological site, Janos Biosphere Reserve, Aquiles Serdán Cueva de los Murciélagos (bat cave), and Samalayuca sand dunes.
The consulate itself resembles a medium-sized embassy, with 119 U.S. direct hires, 256 locally employed staff, eight U.S. government agencies, and more than 100 family members and members of household. Home to one of the largest consular sections in the world, ConGen Ciudad Juárez issues approximately 15% of the world’s immigrant visas. It has more than 100 interviewing and cashiering windows and serves some 200,000 U.S. citizens in its district. With 45 first- and second-tour officer positions—one of the largest global contingents—ConGen Ciudad Juárez embraces its role in advancing the professional development of the Department of State’s next generation of Foreign Service leaders.
Completed in 2008, the three-story consulate complex sits on roughly 10 acres in a busy commercial area. The campus features two gyms, volleyball and basketball courts, a cafeteria, indoor and outdoor event spaces, and a new Marine Security Guard residence, opened in 2022. The consulate is embarking this year on a xeriscaping project to convert the grounds to pollinator-friendly sustainable desert gardens. An active Employee Recreation Association and Community Liaison Office organize a diverse calendar of events and excursions for the consulate community.
The interagency consulate team works closely with Mexican counterparts, U.S.-based regional contacts, and Mission colleagues to advance U.S. objectives in Chihuahua, and ultimately to build a more secure, democratic, prosperous, inclusive, and resilient North America, as outlined in the Mexico country strategy. A little more than a decade ago, Ciudad Juárez was labeled by multiple media outlets as “the most dangerous city on earth,” due to shocking rates of homicide, gender-based violence, kidnapping, extortion, and other crimes. While citywide violence has declined dramatically since its 2010 peak, and homicides decreased 20% from 2021 to 2022, security remains a significant challenge in parts of the city and state. ConGen Ciudad Juárez works closely with state and local authorities to strengthen transparency and rule of law, particularly by building investigative and prosecutorial capacity related to transnational criminal organizations, violent crimes, narcotics and firearms trafficking, and money laundering. The consulate-led collaboration between the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and Chihuahua state officials established Mexico’s first specialized drug court. It offers alternative sentences to drug users, which include addiction treatment and assistance facilitating their reintegration into society. This court’s success has become an example to other Mexican states looking for institutional tools to help break the cycle of drug addiction and criminality.
The region’s security is intimately linked to its other highly visible challenge—irregular migration from the Western Hemisphere and beyond. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported encountering 307,463 people who had irregularly crossed the border in the El Paso Sector alone from October 2022 to April 2023. Geography and transportation access have made the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso metro area an attractive hub for the illegal crossings of people and goods, including drugs, and firearms, which involve transnational criminal organizations. Security analysts estimate criminal organizations obtain up to $100 million in profits per month by smuggling would-be migrants to and across the U.S. border. The consulate engages local authorities, media, NGOs, U.N. organizations, and more than 30 local shelters to assess and report local migration dynamics to policymakers and inform the public about U.S. asylum and immigration policy changes. Through its immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services, post facilitates safe travel, legal immigration, and a stronger U.S. economy.
Consulate officials meet frequently with U.S. and Mexican public- and private-sector leaders to promote cross-border trade, investment, and U.S. exports through initiatives to strengthen nearshoring, workforce development, and efficient international ports of entry. Chihuahua is Mexico’s top exporting state and boasts the largest land crossing for cattle in North America. Approximately $85 billion in trade annually passes through the region’s ports of entry, including many tens of billions’ worth of goods designed, produced, and tested within the region. To facilitate this burgeoning trade conduit, post works with U.S. and Mexican authorities to identify ways to improve investment and infrastructure. Balancing efficiency and security remains a critical challenge on the border.
Ciudad Juárez benefits from its proximity to the United States and its strong working relationships at all levels among governments, companies, and other organizations. The Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation Security Administration, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other U.S. federal agencies regularly share expertise with the city to optimize binational coordination on a wide range of shared priorities, including air quality, secure transportation, water conservation, and grassland management. ConGen Ciudad Juárez regularly convenes binational roundtables with public officials, scientific experts, and private-sector entities. The sessions foster joint research and cooperation to address critical climate, water, food, and public health security challenges while promoting academic, professional, and cultural exchanges. Serving on the border enables American diplomats to establish relationships with both Mexican and U.S. authorities at local, state, and federal levels—and to bring these stakeholders together to strengthen collaboration.
An assignment on the U.S.-Mexico border is truly a unique Foreign Service experience. The intricately entwined blend of cultures, priorities, and histories in this region characterizes the very best the border has to offer. Situated at the economic and cultural crossroads of the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua, ConGen Ciudad Juárez daily helps write the latest chapters in the annals of the vibrant, dynamic U.S.-Mexico partnership.
Caroline Schneider is the public affairs officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez.