Building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will not work. It’s a political sound bite that revs up political rallies, but it ignores the day-to-day reality of life and security along the border.
A team of Star journalists this spring revisited a reporting project the Star did in 2006, when reporters and photographers traveled the roughly 2,000 miles between the U.S. and Mexico.
This time, Star reporters and photographers spent time in California, Arizona, the Tohono O’odham Nation and New Mexico in the U.S. as well as the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora.
“Beyond the Wall,” a special print section in today’s paper — and digital reporting available on Tucson.com — is the result of that work.
Star journalists spoke to residents, border agents, environmentalists, ranchers, migrants and others. They sought the real story of the borderlands, not the one-dimensional picture presented by too many politicians, specifically Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
What the Star found bolsters what those who understand the complex and interconnected situation along the border have long said: Building a wall the entire length of the border would be ineffective, expensive and unnecessary.
Natural barriers of mountains and water create a border of their own in rugged stretches between the U.S. and Mexico. Constructing a wall would slow down human and drug smugglers by mere minutes.
Existing barriers have negatively affected wildlife by cutting off migration routes and have separated families and bisected people’s private property.
Some things have changed in the decade between Star investigations.
The 2005 Real ID Act allows the federal government to ignore all laws that would hinder the creation of border barriers, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
For example, in California, two miles east of the Pacific Ocean, the federal government topped two mesas and filled in Smuggler’s Gulch, trying to stop the flow of drugs and migrant traffic. It has helped in that, but has also created environmental concerns for nearby residents.
Changes in federal policy have made a difference, too. Migrants in the U.S. illegally who are caught are often deported to Mexico far from where they crossed. The intent is to break up smuggling networks, and keep people from being deported right across the border only to try again, and again, and again.
The number of Border Patrol agents has increased from 12,000 to 20,000 over the past 10 years, and the annual budget is now $4 billion. Sensors, cameras and other technology keeps eyes and ears on the border 24/7.
Latching on to the idea that a big wall will stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking may be appealing, but no constructed barrier will solve the problems of people overstaying their visas, the fact that most hard drugs are smuggled into the U.S. through official ports of entry or the people from Central America who willingly surrender themselves at the border.
The concept of a do-it-all wall also obscures the only real fix – a political agreement that creates a way for people to come to the U.S. to work, and return home. Reform must also give legal status to undocumented young people brought here as children by their families, and expedite the legalization process so families aren’t separated for years while waiting for paperwork to clear.
Immigration and border security aren’t simple challenges, and no wall will solve them. Life on the U.S.-Mexico border is complicated and requires far more than political platitudes and promises.