Walls Divide, but Do Not “Protect”

By: Mariam El-Haj


For the first time since the Bush Administration, I visited the Texas-Mexico border. I had never seen the border wall with my own eyes. At the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center, just seven and a half miles south from the McAllen International Airport, there was the border wall. Or at least part of it. The wall that so many in this country didn’t know exists but were so eager to put up.

Due to an international treaty and flood zone requirements, the border wall that currently exists cannot stand along the true border. Instead, many parts of the wall are half of a mile north of the border, closing off several United States residents from the rest of the country. With the placement of the current wall, several Americans are left feeling as if they do not have a home in the United States, nor do they in Mexico.

Additionally, the border wall was implemented for the purpose of “slowing down” immigration across the border, intending to focus on what the country classifies as “illegal immigration.” The wall fails at doing this. When visiting the wall, handprints can be seen up and down the metal barrier. The wall stands approximately twenty feet tall, posing a heavy risk for people who seek to climb it. Although climbing the wall is a difficult and dangerous task, it is being done successfully, which has been evidenced by the homemade ladders found along the border wall during my short hike.

Photo credit: Scott Nicol

The Texas-Mexico border is crossed by people coming from several different countries across central and south America, including Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala (source). For several, obtaining refugee status is their goal and they look to be spotted by border patrol agents, hoping for compassion. For others, the goal is to escape rampant poverty and inhumane bureaucracies, seeking a more fulfilling life.

So what does the border wall do, if it doesn’t really keep people out? One of the current problems with the border wall, without considering the physical location and its current displacement of several Americans, is how it dramatically affects wildlife crossing. The Rio Grande Valley is home to the ocelot, which is finding its way to becoming an endangered species, mostly due to the urbanization of the area. The border wall prevents animals such as this from engaging in their natural migration patterns, causing them to die out.

Parts of the wall are made of solid concrete, with an eighteen-foot drop. This poses another heavy problem: flooding. Much of the lower Rio Grande Valley is a flood zone, which poses potentially lethal risks in the case of storms and climate change. The wall will serve as a dam, flooding poorer areas of south Texas and north Mexico, and essentially breaking the treaty set in place. Flooding at this scale will not only cause the displacement of people from their homes, but potentially costing lives.

Photo credit: Mujtaba Naqvi
Despite the wall not working for its intended purpose and negatively affecting the environment, federal lawmakers still want to infuse more money into more walls. Walls that tear apart communities. Walls that dehumanize a group of people and destroy a habitat. Walls that serve no positive purpose. They want to implement more virtual walls, which makes people feel less, rather than more, safe, stripping them of their right to privacy. A wall, whether physical or virtual, that intends to divide the United States from the rest of the world, giving less access to the home of the free, land of the brave. A wall that sends an uninviting message to the rest of the world about what the cost of freedom and bravery is.

Photo credit: Scott Nicol

As we walked along the border, border patrol agents stopped to say hello, make jokes, and casually talk about the wall with a smile on their faces. They had no idea what our purpose of being there was, but they did this because they wanted us to recognize them as human and see that they had goals and accomplishments, something that they have been trained not to see in others.


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