At the border, the barrier is no abstraction. It divides, yet there are crossings, and a rush hour.
We’re in the city of Calexico, California, on the US-Mexican border a few miles to the west of the Arizona line. The name of this city of some thirty-five thousand reflects a time when someone felt there was no division between California and Mexico. To walk the streets here, we feel we are more in Mexico than in California, at least as far as language goes. And signs on the stores.
It feels as if the barrier is in the middle of the city, slicing it in half east and west. Seeing through the barrier, life goes on on the other side just as it does on this side. It’s just that to get from here to there, or there to here, you have to pass through the checkpoint. Traffic was so heavy leaving the city for Mexico at the rush hour, we get the impression that many workers pass through daily, living on one side, working on the other.
Traffic from the US, a very heavy volume, moves quickly. On the other hand, the lanes entering the US from Mexico are much lighter and slower, we assume because of more detailed checking. But everyone seems quite oblivious to the nuisance, just a part of life we suppose.
The barrier here is vertical steel box beams closely spaced and rising thirty feet. At the base on the US side, there are two rolls of razor wire, wire with razor-sharp small blades every few inches. Rolls of razor wire are laced along the top of the barrier. There is no way we could see that anyone could climb over the wall without sustaining serious injury. And if they were to jump from the top, thirty feet equals dropping from a three-story building.
One border patrol was parked with a long view east and west. Another drove slowly along the wide dirt track inside the US side. An outlet mall with major stores backs up to the dirt track.
It occurs to us that if migrants were to sneak into the US, they would not attempt to get over or through the barrier. It also occurs to us that if they did not want to be seen, they would not be part of a large mass of people which our media describe as ‘caravans.’ As the media also point out, they arrive at checkpoints and await processing.
Do we need a wall, a concrete wall thirty feet, or any, height? Having seen the Berlin wall, and having passed through its checkpoints numerous times, we say no. We need to see people living on the other side in the same manner as we do on this side. Comparing the barrier with a wall, it appears less intimidating, it doesn’t cut those of us on this side off from those on the other side. And when the day comes for the barrier to come down, it is much easier to remove steel slats than to destroy reinforced concrete.
Better yet, let’s get a political solution. Let’s have Congress and the President finally pass a policy that will take into account the needs of the migrants and the needs of the United States. A policy? Is it that hard? Maybe if as much effort went into a policy as is going into the wall controversy, we would achieve something more helpful and long lasting.