Lessons from the US-Mexico Border
We didn’t really plan on ending up near the border. We had decided to go to Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas before the shutdown and were determined not to let politics deter us. That’s how we found ourselves on the Rio Grande River, feet away from Mexico right in the midst of a government closure because of the border wall debate.
One of our many goals of this trip is to learn--to ask questions and keep an open mind. So when we found ourselves on the border, that's just what we did: talking to everyone we could about the issue. And there’s one thing we learned in our time at Big Bend that baffles us about the border wall: It is physically impossible to build a wall along the actual U.S.-Mexico border because the border moves.
The border debate between the U.S. and Mexico has a long and complicated history (back in the 1800s, it was Americans that were flooding Texas—then a part of Mexico--illegally for new economic opportunities). After essentially 150 years of border debate, the 1970 treaty between the United States and Mexico finalized the 1,954 mile border. More than half of this border--from the Gulf of Mexico through El Paso/Ciudad Juarez--was finalized as “the deepest channel” of the Rio Grande River.
Now, for anyone that remembers elementary school science, rivers move. They are constantly changing. That’s why the International Boundary and Water Commission was established: to monitor the living boundary between the two countries (among other growing responsibilites).
So…how can we physically build a wall in the middle of a moving body of water along a border that physically changes, and how can we do so without violating a nearly 50 year old treaty with Mexico?
These questions became incredibly real for us as we hiked alongside and waded into the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Just yards away from where we stood, rancheros took their lunch break on their side of the river. They became even more real when we met Mexican Nationals selling handmade souvenirs on the U.S. side, hiding their canoes in the bushes for their morning and evening commutes.
After talking to a park ranger that works in law enforcement (in Big Bend, park rangers also play a role in Border Patrol) we learned that the park knows about the Mexicans selling wares to tourists. They simply don’t have the resources to stop it from happening.
As progressives, the border issue quickly becomes a moral/ethical one. We are disgusted with the current administration’s policy of family separation and we are heartbroken and angry about the two children that have died in the last 3 weeks in the custody of US Customs and Border Patrol.
But standing on the border and realizing we could literally wade across to Mexico with zero repercussions did help to crystalize the scope of the challenge we as a country face if we seek to have control over our borders. And furthermore, it highlighted just how unfeasible a solution a wall actually is.
On our quest to learn more about this issue, we learned that not only is more than half of the border made of moving water, but according to US Customs and Border Patrol, over 1/4 of the total border actually is already fenced. And the walls/fences that have been built along the border actually do less to deter migration than to ensure more fatalities and injuries as migrants end up trekking further across the desert to other entry points.
There is a problem with the border today. If we seek to control the flow of people and goods (legal and otherwise) into and out of our country, we do need new and better ideas. But the wall just isn’t it.