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The Myth of the Perfect Wall

At some point we will have to accept the fact that the border between Mexico and the United States is nothing more than an invention.
Jorge Ramos is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and news anchor for Univision.
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In the Otay Mesa sector in California, border wall models are tested for Trump's wall. Crédito: CBP

No matter how much you might want to seal the border between Mexico and the United States, it’s simply not possible. You might temporarily stop, delay, complicate or hinder the flow of immigrants and drugs from south to north, but nothing will ever stop it entirely. Though it may upset some politicians who’ve spent years making false promises, this is the reality of the situation.

If by some magic (or through behind-the-scenes negotiations), President Donald Trump could get the $5.7 billion he’s been asking for to build a wall, it would be of very little use. That money would only get him about 234 miles of wall, according to the White House. What about the rest of the border?

Those who buy into the myth that Trump’s wall would completely stem the illegal entry of drugs and people into the United States clearly have trouble with math. Here’s a crash course: The line dividing Mexico and the United States is 1,954 miles long. Right now, there are already walls and fences along about 700 miles. That still leaves 1,254 without any physical barrier. So even if Trump could build his new wall, there would still be an unfenced stretch of over 1,000 miles. End of lesson.

But Trump just won’t speak truth to his followers. And the truth is that a wall would be useless.

If there is anything immigrants are known for, it’s for their innovative thinking. When they come to a wall, they simply go around it. Or over it. Or they find a ladder to climb it. Or dig a tunnel underneath. Or they arrive by plane and overstay their visas. Walls by themselves are pretty useless.

Yet Trump keeps insisting on building his. He cites as an example the 440-mile wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories. First, it should be noted that this is not really a wall, but rather a military security system equipped with high-tech sensors and guarded by soldiers. And the Israelis and Palestinians are in a long-term conflict. The United States and Mexico are not. Since there are no plans to militarize the U.S. border, we’re effectively talking about two completely different things.

Second, there isn’t a crisis at the border warranting a wall or the deployment of troops. The number of undocumented immigrants arrested trying to cross it in 2017 was the lowest on record since 1971. According to government data, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has not increased in a decade, and they pose no threat to national security. Further, studies have concluded that immigrants commit fewer crimes than American-born citizens.

But when someone tries to demonstrate to Trump’s followers that there is no crisis at the border they get angry, and immediately point to the huge quantity of drugs entering the country. It is true that some 28 million Americans use drugs, making the United States the primary global market for narcotics. However, the majority of the heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine entering the country travels through customs checkpoints and legal ports of entry, according to recent reporting from The New York Times.

At some point we will have to accept the fact that the border between Mexico and the United States is nothing more than an invention. It was demarcated in 1848, following a war that cost Mexico about half its territory (it’s no coincidence that cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio and San Francisco have Spanish names). Also, it’s been said a thousand times that many people didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. And the cultural and commercial ties between the two sides remain in place to this day — look at the fellowship exhibited by cities like El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico — even if barbed wire and concrete barriers have been erected in some places along the divide.

Yes, all countries have the right to mark and protect their borders. But the histories and traditions of countries like Mexico and the United States are so intertwined that there is no practical or legal way a wall would keep them apart. Some politicians, like Trump, may well try to do come up with a way, but they are doomed to failure every time.

The border has been a crooked proposition from the beginning, and it will continue to be twisted to meet political ends.

P.S. For purposes of foreign policy, Mexico’s government is still recognizing the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who is responsible for mounting deaths, tightening censorship and the incarceration of political dissenters. However, one of the principles laid out in Article 89 (X) of the Mexican Constitution directs us “to respect, protect and promote human rights.” So, what comes next?