The Wall

Four years ago on our first visit to Organ Pipe National Monument, driving down a dirt road on the way to a ranger talk at Quitobaquito Pond. The border wall can be seen on the left side of the photo rising up and over the hill.

December 28, 2020 & February 9, 2021.

The end of 2020 found us in the desert outside of Ajo, Arizona. We were camped with our friends celebrating the Christmas holiday. The desert there is beautiful. We did daily walks, looked for birds (didn’t find many), hung with our friends, ate good food, and watched nightly sunsets over a boundless wilderness.

On our last full day in Ajo, the whole gang drove down to the visitor center at Organ Pipe National Monument about 30 miles south of where we were camped. After picking up some brochures and hiking a couple of nearby trails, everyone piled back into their vehicles and we drove another 4.5 miles to the very southern end of the park where the United States and Mexico meet.

A dirt road runs along the southerly edge of this remote section of the monument. We had driven this road on a previous visit to Organ Pipe four years ago on our way to a ranger talk at Quitobaquito pond, a small oasis in the middle of the desert. But this time our destination wasn’t Quitobaquito or a ranger talk. We were going to see the new wall.

We lucked out on our timing on this little adventure. The road had been closed while they were building the towering structure on the border but construction had stopped for the holidays.

The border barrier as it looked on our first visit to Organ Pipe National Monument in 2017.

On our previous visit, a vehicle barrier separated the two countries, Mexico and the United States. Rows of bollards planted in the ground were erected by the park to deter frequent cross-border car chases caused by illegal activities. The bollards were spaced far enough apart to allow the migration of animals. Now, that Barrier had been replaced with a towering 30-foot tall border “wall”.

The border barrier in Organ Pipe National Monument today.

The United States shares a 1954 mile border with Mexico. Every month tens of thousands of migrants attempt to illegally cross the southern border into the United States. As most Americans know the former President Trump campaigned for the presidency in 2016 with the promise of building a “Big, beautiful wall” that Mexico would pay for. In the end, the American taxpayers ended up footing the bill. In 2019 President Trump declared a national emergency and diverted a portion of the funds needed from counternarcotics and military construction budgets. Altogether $15 billion dollars were earmarked for 738 miles of new barrier.

Construction crews on holiday at the new wall in Organ Pipe.

By the end of Trump’s four-year term as president 455 miles of wall were constructed but only 49 of those miles were brand new barrier. The other miles replaced old wall and vehicle barriers and created second barriers behind the first ones.

I hadn’t really intended to write about our trip to the wall but after one of my friends who visited the wall with us that day posted her a story about the wall on her blog, Roaming About, I realized that many people have never even seen a picture of the wall, much less have had the opportunity to visit it in person. And after seeing the new barrier construction on our many border crossing trips in January to Greg’s dentist in Los Algodones, Mexico, I started to think about the wall even more.

Looking at the border wall at the edge of the city of Los Algodones, Mexico on our first visit in 2018. The wall looks much the same here today except for coils of concertina wire topping the barriers.

One day while we were still hanging out in the area where we had made our home base for our dentist excursions, I mentioned to Greg that I’d like to see the wall near Yuma, Arizona. Yuma uniquely sits directly east of Mexico and the city of Los Algodones. The Colorado River sets the boundary of the two countries which travels down along the Arizona/California border and into Mexico spilling out into the Sea of Cortez.

Driving along the border barrier on the outskirts of Yuma, Arizona. Produce fields line the road on the left.

We drove to the outskirts of Yuma, down a dirt road flanked by produce fields being tended to by migrant laborers. At the end of the road, we found a towering wall with the Colorado River and its eastern banks clearly ceded to the Mexican side. The wall was incomplete with significant gaps. Looking west in those gaps I could see Los Algodones’ water tower and some of the buildings we walked past on the eastern side of the city when we were there weeks earlier.

Looking west through this gap in the barrier you can see our side north of the barrier and their side south. The Colorado River runs through the gap in the distance and beyond that is the town of Los Algodones.

The border wall not only divides nations but also divides people. Some people feel the border wall will control illegal immigration and reduce crime. But according to some sources over 60 percent of illegal immigration is due to visitors who enter the country legally and overstay their visas. And there have been reports of drug smugglers who use reciprocating saws, that can cut through the new steel bollards in minutes, allowing them to slip through the fence after which they then replace the cut piece of steel to mask the breach.

The barrier construction at Organ Pipe National Monument has involved destroying much of the natural landscape near the border.

Many people are concerned about the environmental consequences of this enormous construction project. Animals like ocelots, pronghorns, javelinas, black bears, and mountain lions that can’t see the dividing line have had their habitats reduced and destroyed. While building the wall in Organ Pipe National Monument, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, ten of millions of gallons of water have been pumped from a deep aquifer of thousands of years old “fossil water” threatening to dry up Quitobaquito pond and destroying the habitat of the endangered species that live there, the Quitobaquito pupfish and Sonoyta mud turtle.

Quitobaquito Pond during our recent visit to Organ Pipe. Several of the articles I read about the building of the wall in Organ Pipe included pictures of a nearly dry pond. Thankfully it seems to have recovered and hopefully, there isn’t any lasting damage.

Recently I watched a movie with a couple of scenes set during the building of the Berlin Wall during the cold war. People were desperate to escape to the other side, jumping from apartment windows that looked west over the wall and scrambling under concertina wire to reach the barrier, only to be shot as they attempted to summit the top. As many as 327 people lost their lives at this wall before it came down. After watching these scenes it made me wonder whether governments that think a wall is the answer to their problems really understand what the question is.

A picture of a mural from our 2917 visit to Ajo. T. O. Nation refers to the Native American people, the Tohono O’odham. The Tohono O’odham lived in this area long before North America was divided up into countries. When the border was drawn it went right through their land. Today members of their tribe live on both sides of the border. Currently, a gate allows them access to visit their friends and family in either country and to travel to sacred ceremonies in Mexico. Although they have invested a significant amount of money into making their border secure they feel a wall will damage their nation and their sacred tribal traditions.

I see a humanitarian crisis at the border. People are fleeing crime, violence, intimidation, poverty, the threat of death. People from countries like Honduras and Guatemala are leaving everything they know and are walking the length of Mexico to reach a place they hope can keep them safe and provide their families with a better life. And so many of them are doing the right thing, stopping at the border and asking for asylum. But instead of refuge they are either imprisoned or pushed back into Mexico where they live in camps or under bridges where they have become targets for the same kind of crime and intimidation they had been fleeing in their home countries. Desperate, they decide to cross the border into the desert.

According to the Missing Migrants Project, at least 2961 people have died making the trek across the border since 2014, including 45 people so far just this year. The desert is harsh and unforgiving. Two gallons of water might last a person a day, maybe two. Getting to the next water source can take up to five. The Border Patrol has placed rescue beacons in remote areas and humanitarian groups drive deep into the desert to leave gallon jugs hoping to save someone’s life.

We took a picture of this rescue beacon when we were camping near Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in April last year.

Despite a spike in border apprehensions in 2019, the number of migrants caught crossing the border has come down significantly from a monthly average of over 81,000 in the early 2000s to a monthly average of around 32,000 in the last 3 years. On the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) website, a scene is described from 1992 of thousands of people rushing the border en masse, overwhelming the agents trying to stop them. The border patrol believes that the higher fence in combination with new technology, access roads, and personnel will give them more time to react. The CBP believes that the new wall will make their jobs more effective and keep their agents and the country safer.

Double barrier. I didn’t understand the purpose of the two walls when I first encountered them. But now I understand the second barrier gives Border Patrol more time to react if someone breaches the first barrier. In this picture the barrier runs along a Los Algodones street. The gap in the fence is where the Colorado River flows.
The new wall contains many access doors to the other side like this one in Oragn Pipe.

On inauguration day, President Biden halted wall construction and in February he rescinded Trump’s emergency order. Many people want him to go further and take the wall down.

Ultimately I believe in laws. I think they make our world a more secure place to live in when we can all agree to certain rules. But I believe many laws don’t adequately address the real problem which in turn makes the laws ineffective.

The access road running along the barrier in Organ Pipe.

There are 280.6 million displaced migrants around the world. The United States has a large share of them. My hope is that one day people won’t have to make these dangerous decisions to keep their family safe and to put food on their tables. I hope that the US can be a leader in making this hope a reality. And that one day whether the wall continues to stand or not that we can visit the border to learn, perhaps turning whatever remains into a National Historic Site. And like so many of the other National Historic Sites and Parks that Greg and I have visited on our journey, like Manzanar and the Manhattan Project, it will become a place where we can come to understand the many issues about the place, the people, the hopes, and the fears.

I did a lot of reading for this post. It was a little like writing a research paper. I found lots of articles online about lots of different aspects of the border and the wall. If you are interested in doing more reading about the border wall, the best resource I found was this Wikipedia post. It includes 259 references.

Beyond the new barrier outside of Yuma lies the old. I can see how the new wall would be easier to patrol.
The old barrier outside of Yuma.
Another view looking west to Los Algodones from another gap in the wall.

This week I will be sharing this post on  My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Through My Lens, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this post. Have you been to the US border wall? Have you been to a historical border wall or any of the other 69 border walls around the world? Do you think migration is a humanitarian concern or a criminal one?

18 thoughts on “The Wall

  1. Thanks for sharing your research with us. Living on the other side of the wall gives us even a bit more insight into the humanitarian issues related to That Fucking Wall.
    We see native Hondurans, Guatemalan d others, noticeable by their smaller stature and indigenous facial features walking the streets of larger Mexican towns,, working their way north,, to a better life. Many are shoeless, carrying thir cardboard beds with them, sometimes selling trinkets or Chicklets for a couple of pesos.
    It is heartbreaking to witness them, along with our fellow Mexicans, searching for.a.better life “over there”, while many, many Americans from the US and Canada have chosen to leave that behind, and make Mexico our “better life”.
    It boils down to money, fear, and sacrifice.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for your comment Jules. I appreach your perspective from the other side of the wall. What you say tracks with some of the things I’ve read about how little they have and how unprepared migrants are for this journey.

  2. Great job with this post, Duwan. Thank you for doing all this research and creating a comprehensive article about the border wall. The issues at hand are, indeed, complicated. I am with you in hoping that, one day, the wall will remain only as a historical site, where visitors can learn more about its past and (illegal) immigration in general.

    1. I had so many questions writing this post and I don’t really feel like I answered them all. But hopefully I touched on some of the bigger or more provocative ones here. This is why I’d like to see the wall turned into a National Historic Site – so someone else can do all the research.

  3. Immigration along with political asylum is a difficult, complicated and challenging issue for all countries, and especially here in the US amidst our political climate. Thank you for taking the time to present such a balanced look at the wall.

    1. Thank you Steve. I tried to be balanced while at the same time expressing my own opinion.

      Immigration and migration is a worldwide issue. You are right, the US isn’t the only country to deal with these concerns. My hope is that we can be a leader to finding good solutions.

  4. While the issue of immigration is incredibly complicated, the racist commentary that came along with the decision to build the wall, the absence of any policy to address the underlying conditions that cause mass migration, and the absence of any attempt to show these folks an ounce of humanity, made it pretty clear what the prior administration’s intentions were. Perhaps if there was a larger immigration plan that included a wall but which also tried to tackle these other parts of the challenge, people wouldn’t react so viscerally to the wall itself, but, for better or worse, the wall’s existence will forever be linked to blatantly hateful and racist motives. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the structure itself is such an eyesore.

    Thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post.

    1. Thank you for your comment Laura. The wall has been used to divide people more ways than one. I agree with you, rhetoric about the wall has whipped up emotions, dividing America and has failed to find any real solutions.

    1. Thank you Lisa. I’m glad you thought it was balanced. I have thought that now construction is stopped we should leave it up but then I think about the wildlife who have had their habitat destroyed. Hopefully the wildlife situation can be addressed by our new administration.

  5. A criminal once told me that locks are for honest people. I think it applies to many things in life, so we have to be ready for those that don’t believe in ‘locks.’

    I’m glad to see you this week at ‘My Corner of the World’!

  6. This is such a thought-provoking post, Duwan. I’ve never seen a picture of the wall.

    Scholars say the failure of the Great Wall of China is a lesson for Trump.

    1. Thanks Veronica. I don’t know much about the Great Wall of China but I do hope that the US border wall ends up a tourist attraction like the Great Wall.

  7. Thank you for all the photos and research! I certainly was unaware of the wall’s disruption of contiguous native American communities in addition to animals.

    1. You are welcome! Yes, I never thought about those issues or heard about them either until I spent some time in the area.

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