Tim Steller: First, razor wire on border, then what?

2013-07-17T00:00:00Z 2013-07-17T09:01:15Z Tim Steller: First, razor wire on border, then what?Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Sen. John McCain did not mean to encourage the Border Patrol when he said the U.S.-Mexico line could soon become "the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall."

McCain seemed more resigned to such a reality when he told CNN June 25 that's how the border will be if the Senate's immigration bill passes.

Whether the agency heard McCain or not, Customs and Border Protection is moving closer to a Berlin-style barrier with its proposal to put razor wire about 10 feet up on the U.S. side of the fence in some parts of Nogales.

The plan came to light because Nogales, Arizona Mayor Arturo Garino brought it up - and decried it - during the border town's city council meeting last week. There are many reasons why: the risk of greater injury to border jumpers as well as the sheer ugliness, in both appearance and symbolism.

As much as Nogales residents want safety, in my experience they also cherish harmony with their family and friends across the line.

Still, you can almost follow the Border Patrol's logic: People keep climbing the fence, and injuring themselves, even though it's 20 feet or higher in places. So let's put up razor wire to further discourage them.

Except, if the razor wire is on the U.S. side, not on top, it will be less visible, especially in the dark, meaning it might not be a deterrent. And, perhaps most importantly, those who try anyway could end up with more gruesome injuries than the sprained ankles and broken legs they get now.

A few months ago I interviewed a man at a Nogales, Sonora, shelter who was bad off after he slipped from the fence and fell on the Mexican side. I can only imagine how bad off he would have been had he fallen on the U.S. side and got tangled in razor wire.

Then there's the question that bothers me, as it pertains to the proposed "surge" in Border Patrol agent hiring as well as constant ratcheting up of security measures: Where does this progression end?

"I know they want to use it as a deterrent, but it's meant to hurt you," Garino said. "If you jump over and get in it, you'll get it."

The Border Patrol did not lay out the precise location of the proposed wire, but Garino said it would be in areas west and east of the downtown port of entry, where people continue to cross despite the tall fence.

"The proposal itself is conceptual," CBP spokesman Vic Brabble told me Tuesday. "We hear his (Garino's) concerns. We're listening to his concerns."

Other sections of the border already have razor wire, including on the fence just east of the Douglas port of entry. The use of razor wire began in 2008 when the agency installed rings of it atop a five-mile stretch of the fence separating San Diego from Tijuana.

The agency credited it with reducing assaults on agents, but some locals compared it with ... the Berlin Wall.

Such objections are routine, even if they're worthy. The last two decades at the border have seen local people object to border barriers, only to accede or get used to them later.

In 1993, the Border Patrol proposed its first solid barrier in Nogales, made of Vietnam-era landing mats, and they met with strong resistance.

"The people of Nogales have made it very clear that they do not want this wall," then-Sen. Dennis DeConcini said in a 1993 statement. "I am pleased that INS (the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which existed at that time) and Border Patrol have assured me that the wall will not be built for as long as the community opposes it."

An INS spokesman said, "We're not in the business of forcing unwanted projects on the people we're supposed to serve."

Within nine months, agents were putting up the 10-foot fence, to the dismay of some who hated its symbolism and scrawled, "Muro de Berlin" on it. Others felt it provided necessary security.

Around the year 2000, the federal government tried something new in Nogales - "aesthetic" fencing extending a short distance out from the downtown port of entry, which is named after the former senator, DeConcini. They improved the fencing in 2011 as well, tearing down the old landing-mat style fence and putting up what the agency calls "bollard" fencing.

This fencing has metal poles about four inches apart, and the fences are between 18 and 30 feet high. They're formidable but also see-through, which is an improvement over the opaque black mats.

"I've never opposed anything Border Patrol has done," Garino said. "I've always defended them. I never opposed the wall. I like it, for the fact you can see through it now."

But now Garino is standing in the way, and the council is considering taking up an anti-razor-wire resolution. Looking back at history and at the continuing border-security hysteria, I can see why: You may accept razor wire, and the injuries and ugliness that come with it.

But then, what will the Border Patrol want next?

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter: @senyorreporter.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Receive 10% OFF to locate your leak!

This is not in combination with any other offer - call today!

Get weekly ads via e-mail