skip to Main Content
Three Ways Of Looking At A Border Wall

Three Ways of Looking at a Border Wall

Peter Temes

ONE. “You might not want to post a picture of that to social media,” our guide and protector told the cluster of trainee-helpers as we stood about two miles east of the seldom-used Sasabe border crossing, the least traveled road in Arizona connecting the U.S. to Mexico.

We were looking at an absurd sight: to the right of us, two miles of 18-foot rusted metal bollard border fence, looking like an endless duplication of tall trapezoids roughly the width of your fist, reaching up to three times the height of the tallest person standing in our little knot of volunteers. That’s to our right. Right in front of us, that wall ends. To our left, a zig-zag line of “Normandy barriers” built of old steel railroad track stands about four feet high, horizontal track lengths laid on top of slightly taller steel X’s spread about six feet apart. This short barrier – one can hardly call it a wall – follows irregular bends and dips into the distance to our left. Anyone can hop over it, or duck under it. “Right wingers like to see this because it can make it look like we need a lot more of the tall wall,” she explains. If the goal is to keep all comers larger than a field mouse from crossing the border here, that might be right.

None of us here – mostly from far-away places, getting trained to do day-long water runs and aid patrols to support migrants who die by the hundreds crossing this desert by foot – are fans of the wall. And the contrast between the impossible pretend strength of the sky-reaching bollards and the familiar looking shape of the old railroad-track steel is almost shocking. The short barriers hint at cowboys straddling old corral fences while the bollards all reach impossible narrow heights, clearly built with big machines winching and swaying each parallel post into place.

The whole project of these big fences slowly comes to feel like declaring war on the ocean or the sky: there’s just too much land, too much open air, too many miles in every direction to imagine victory over the human instinct to migrate, to cross deserts, to cross oceans and – least of all – scramble over walls along the way.

TWO. Another bollard wall, this one very tall, easily 30-feet high and perhaps higher, topped by flat panels to keep the last five feet or so entirely free of any handhold or foothold. A man is at the top stepping off a rope ladder steadied by two compatriots, one at the bottom, one almost at the top wedged in securely. The climber and his two-man support team. He lays across the very top still for just a moment and then flops to the other side and floats down into the U.S. like the wall is a children’s adventure slide. As soon as his feet touch pavement he bolts across a quiet road and hurls himself over a ten-foot wall. He’s gone. Instantly a Border Patrol truck with its distinctive green slash arrives but the climber is already gone. Border Patrol looks hapless. It feels like a game. It feels like the climber wins.

Almost certainly he did not. Watching the video, we can’t see what happens to him next but the odds are stacked massively against him. The 37-second video captures the absurdity of the wall – the climber sliding down makes you laugh – as well as the deadly seriousness of the game being played. When he touched ground, he moved with the speed of panic. He ran for his life.

You can see the video here:

THREE. The small Mexican city of Nogales, south of Tucson, attracts tourists for nightlife, for drugs and strip clubs, for cheap medicines and dentisty. It’s also a beautiful city in its scrappy way, a small metropolis in the Sonoran desert. Art sprouts along the wall, along with tragedy. In 2012, a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot through the border fence separating Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, from Nogales, Arizona, killing Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16-year-old who had been throwing rocks up a 12-foot embankment toward the barrier . The Border Patrol agent shot 16 times.

About 100 feet from that site, someone has written these words, one letter on each pillar of the wall: “Nuestros suenos de justicia. No detiene ningun muro.” Our dreams of justice cannot be stopped by any wall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *