Tijuana / DPA
There is no wall dividing Tijuana from San Diego in the Eagles’ Nest region of northern Mexico. Instead, a rusty metal fence sporting a “Danger” sign ends there abruptly, as if unsure of where else to go.
Shrubs and rocks make land access difficult in the Nido de las Aguilas area. Combined with the elevation, this keeps many would-be emigrants and vehicles from using it as a crossing point into the United States. In addition, the area is monitored permanently by border patrol using all-terrain vehicles and helicopters.
In theory, a 10 to 20-metre-high concrete wall, like the one proposed by US President Donald Trump, would seal the border. But its construction “would not stop Mexicans,” insists Miguel Reyes, a recent deportee from the United States who has left his wife and five children behind in Los Angeles, California. Reyes had lived there for more than 22 years.
“If I can’t jump the fence, then I’ll just go under it,” he said. Reyes was deported on January 20 and jokes that he was the first person Donald Trump deported, because the new US president assumed office on that very day.
The desperation of deported emigrants to return to their families is only one of the factors that the Trump administration will have to consider if it wishes to keep its campaign promise of halting undocumented immigration, especially if its main strategy consists of building a wall.
“Its construction would drive would-be emigrants to take greater and greater risks in their determination to cross into the United States,” explains Alejandra Castaneda, a researcher at the Tijuana-based El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, that studies border issues.
Around one-third of the 3,200-kilometre long border between Mexico and the United States has some type of wall, fence or obstacle that prevents or at least hinders access to the United States by undocumented emigrants and narco-traffickers.
Castaneda explains that about half of the borderlands is divided by “natural barriers” such as deserts, mountains and rivers. The rugged conditions of the land endanger the lives of those who venture to cross it, but so do the plans of US President Trump for the construction of a wall that he wants Mexico to pay for.
“Access to those areas is so difficult that before building walls they would have to construct roads,” the
In her report “Building Bridges or Raising Walls,” she estimates that the construction of each mile of wall would cost between 15 and 25 million dollars, calculating the materials, labour and logistics required for the work.
Another obstacle is land ownership, she explains, since in places like Texas most of the lands adjoining the border region are in private hands. Before building, the US government would have to go to court to expropriate those lands. “They’ve tried this before, and it is a long and expensive process,” she says.
Along the border are lands that belong to Native American Indians, who enjoy autonomy over their activities and the exploitation of natural resources, but maintain sovereignty limited by the executive orders or federal statutes of the US government.
The Kumiai are one of the tribes that have territory in both Mexico and the United States. “Our lands don’t have any borders. Our ancestors travelled between the Mexican coast and the US mountains in search of food,” says Javier Cesena, an indigenous Kumiai who lives on the Mexican side. Cesena says any construction of a wall would be seen as an attack on their ancestral lands and would be fought by indigenous groups in both countries.
Ancient tribes are not the only groups dismayed by the proposed construction of a border wall. Environmental groups on both sides of the border have already begun voicing concerns about the damage this could do to a shared ecosystem.
Eduardo Najera, director of the environmental group Costa Salvaje (Wild Coast), predicts that a construction work of that magnitude would have an undeniable impact on the environment, as it would require that roads be built, ravines be filled in and the courses of streams be altered.
Once built, the wall would harm many protected species of mammals and reptiles such as deer, cougars and buffaloes by limiting their mobility and as a result, their ability to feed and find mates.
“They have to consider these effects, not only with respect to nature, but also to international treaties,” Najera says, pointing out that the wall is expected to be built in areas protected by the governments of both countries in agreements that are recognized by international courts.
Although the wall construction has not yet begun and Castaneda knows of no proposal or draft yet put forward for its erection, the new administration has already started to reinforce certain segments of the border. In California, wire mesh was added to the six-metre high fence that divides the Tijuana beach from that of San Diego.
Less than a month after its installation, the fence, which juts out into the sea, has a half-metre wide gap at its base, large enough to allow an adult to pass through.
“Our entire lives are there. We must go back, any way we can,” says Reyes, speaking from his bench at a shelter for migrants in Tijuana.
Minutes later, he says goodbye to a group of emigrants with backpacks slung across their shoulders. “They’re going north,â€ he says with a smile. “And when I am able to, I’m going as well, and nobody is going to stop me.”