Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Gated Country

The second day of our trip to Arizona was spent in Mexico at a border station.  Half of our group went to Nogales and the half I was in to Naco.  Naco is a tiny little town that is divided down the middle by “the wall”, with a fairly empty and depressed downtown on the Arizona side and a livelier but still small downtown on the Sonora side. 

We parked on the AZ side and walked over the border to a migrant station about 100 yards from the checkpoint.  The border crossing into Mexico is staffed by US immigration officials, which is odd because generally other countries staff their own borders.  The border between Arizona and Mexico is essentially occupied by the US.  The border guards were friendly and entering into Mexico was easy, as was coming back.  We showed our passport and said we were going to visit the Migrant Resource Center.  They waved us through. 

The most striking detail in this town is “the wall.”  I am not that good at estimating height, but I would say it is at least 12 feet high.  It runs the entire length of the Arizona border, as well as much of New Mexico and California, and you can see it snaking along the border in both directions. Unmanned planes, or drones, provide surveillance.  Parts of the wall are made from old runways from the first Gulf War.  Built by Marines, it is sunk into three feet of cement and cost about $1 million per mile.  On the US side, there is also a ditch right along the wall.  In many places, there is a double wall, and apparently the plan is to have a double wall along the entire border.

The wall causes all kinds of environmental problems because animals can’t migrate as they would normally do and water can’t follow its normal routes.  Flooding in border towns is now common.  Debris piles up along it, and mostly it does not really keep  migrants out of the USA, although many people sprain or break their ankles or twist their knees as they come off the wall on the US side.  In the summer the metal of the wall radiates heat and burns any sentient being that touches it. 

I found the wall far most upsetting than I thought I would.  I could imagine animals trying desperately to find a hole or break in the wall, and people climbing up one side and then shimmying down the other, tearing up their hands in the process or jumping and landing in the ditch. The desert is one of the most fragile ecosystems and the heavy equipment used to build the wall, and the All Terrain Vehicles now used to patrol cause scars and damage that will never heal.

The wife of a border patrol agent organized schoolchildren to paint flowers and pretty designs on that part of the wall that goes through Naco.  I can imagine her motives were good:  she does not want this hulking behemoth to scare children or to appear so threatening.  But as one of our hosts pointed out, you don’t want to make something like this pretty.  It is not just ugly, it is evil, and no mural of smiling children skipping through fields of flowers can change what this wall is about.

On our southern border, we are a gated country now, and we might as well put up a sign:  “Americans only. Brown people not born here are not welcome.”

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