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Anyone who has not been living under a rock could tell you that security at the southern border has become a hot issue of debate during this presidential cycle.

As I listen to politicians, middle Americans, Democrats, Republicans, blatantly partisan news anchors, and bumper sticker flaunting owners of lifted pickups alike bicker about the severity of this problem, I begin to ask myself, “Do these people really know what they are talking about?”

Have they ever crossed the border? Have they ever been to the border? Have they ever seen the border with their own eyes? Do they know anyone who lives near the border? Do they know anyone who lives on the other side of the border? Believe it or not, there are people, just like you and me, who live beyond the abyss.

I will add the disclaimer that I am not an expert on immigration policy, but I come from the perspective of someone who lives in a border community, someone who crosses the border relatively regularly, and someone who knows people well on both sides of the border. To San Diegans, this may seem like nothing special, but only 2.5% 1 of the country lives in a county that borders Mexico. The perspective of a border region resident is one that most people who are arguing the issue do not have. Simply living near the border does not warrant claims of expertise on the subject, but in my opinion it does add a level of credibility.

Only 2.5% of the country lives in a county that borders Mexico.

Before things get heated, my intention is not to write a politically slanted piece. I will gladly state that my views on immigration are the polar opposite of the standing president, but I would like to take a more objective approach to communicate the ‘issue’ at hand.

So, to see what the fuss is about and to show those that have never been to the border what it’s like, I visited and documented an unfenced portion of the border in California — just as advertised via the endless, looping B-roll on the national news.

Here’s what I found:

This section of the border is actually very accessible. The well-traveled Interstate 8 comes within 1.3 miles of the border and the paved road comes within a half mile.
I followed the dirt road out to the border on foot. I’m not sure if this is trespassing private property or a public road. I didn’t see any border patrol, but it felt like there were eyes fixed on me the whole time.
Selfie at the border to prove I did in fact take the photos! At about 3,000 feet of elevation, winter temperatures were a bit chilly in the low 40’s.
This section of the border lies in east San Diego County near the town of Jacumba Hot Springs. It was built in 1995 by the Clinton Administration. I did a little research and came across an interesting story in the LA Times about how the border construction ignited a decline in the town due to its symbiotic relationship with its Mexican sister town of Jacume on the other side. It’s a good read if you have the time.
Going on 25 years, the wall has seen better days. The rust and stress have caused cracks in some places. A theory of mine is that this could be caused by tectonic activity, as many small faults cross the border in this area. The San Andreas fault, which crosses the border into Mexico about 45 miles east of Jacumba Hot Springs, is a strike-slip fault, meaning the plates slide parallel to each other, offsetting the land by about two inches per year.
Peering into Mexico, I saw the first sign of crossing activity in this area — tossed water bottles.
As you walk up the hill, the border comes to an end. Aside from the steep hill, there is a moderate gorge just beyond this point, which is why I presume they elected not to undertake the task of building a border any further. Getting heavy machinery up there would have been nearly impossible without seriously altering the land to build access roads. Just beyond this hill the border continues again.
Someone stored a large jug of water here for migrants. I know there are non-profits in San Diego that do this — cool work in my opinion.
As the steel border comes to an end, a makeshift barbed wire fence made by a combination of metal rods and sticks, yes sticks, proceeds to mark the border more or less (it isn’t a perfectly straight line, bending slightly into the US, so it’s not the exact border).
Sticking my camera over into Mexico.
A rope lying on the ground right where the border ends. Seems like a tool to tie the barbed wire fence together to create a safer opening.
Someone got snagged going through the barbed wire.
A big rock has been placed on the fence here to make a larger opening between the wires for people to squeeze through.

The difference that an arm’s length can make

The above photo really strikes a chord with me because it demonstrates how a mere geographic distance of literally two feet separated by three rusty, old wires can drastically change your life. If you are born on that rock across the fence, you will be born Mexican, learn Spanish as your first language, and unfortunately likely face more challenges in attaining a comfortable economic situation in your life. (Of course, I say ‘likely’ because money does not necessarily mean happiness, not everyone wants to live in the USA, and not all Mexicans have financial struggles.)

If you are born where I stood, you are American, which can give you an opportunity that you may not have on that side of the fence. Also worth noting, being born on my side of the fence gives you the freedom to cross the fence as you please. Freedom of movement does not stop where the fence begins. For many born on the southern side of the border, they will never receive a visa that allows them to cross, never able to come to stand where I was.

Think about the difference that an arm’s length can make.

This leads me to a related thought (possibly a slight tangent). As with most things in life, I think patriotism is okay in moderation. But at the same time I look at this photo and think, where you are born is pure luck. Putting aside the infinitely small chances that you were even born in the first place, you could have just as easily been born on that side of the fence. I mean hell, when you enter the world, there is a 60% chance that you will be Asian, 20% chance that you will be Chinese 2. Should we be proud of this luck?

I look at this photo and think, where you are born is pure luck.

Given the extremely small chance that I was born in California, USA, do I have an inherent responsibility to care more for those also born in my country, or can I look at every human on Earth on an equal playing field, all equally deserving of my consideration? I tend to lean towards the latter.

Again, nothing wrong with patriotism, but there’s a little food for thought to start off your day.

A dog food bag originating from Mexico, presumably used as a sturdy, but disposable bag for making the crossing. A clever idea.
A toothbrush lying near the border.
Water bottles were definitely the most abundant item strewn about the ground.
A discarded jacket being absorbed by the earth.
Water is clearly the most precious resource for those who cross the border.
More discarded clothing. I wonder if they dropped it to leave weight behind, because they were in a hurry, or because they were nearing their final destination. A jacket seems like a valuable item.
This was the most interesting thing I found — a cell phone. I presume this was used by a coyote to a contact someone in the US, and then disposed of.
I could post dozens more water bottle photos (available upon request). The water bottles were the best indicator of the trails used.
Hair brush.
As I was walking through this trail during the day, I had to be actively aware of where I was walking due to the high density of cacti. Assuming that most migrants cross at night, I definitely gained an appreciation for how difficult it would be to walk across this terrain in the dark without getting a leg full of spines.
This beanie tied to the tree looks like a trail marker, or maybe someone just tied their beanie to a tree.
Heading to the car, looking back at the border that I just hiked.

What did I learn?

I must say that I was not expecting to find much at the border, so it was mildly surprising to see such clear evidence of what has unfolded on this small chunk of land in the past two decades. The discarded items, the fence, and the worn trails tell a story. Between the plethora of water bottles, food wrappers, backpacks, clothing, and cell phones, it paints a picture of those that have undertaken the treacherous journey north.

I must admit, President Trump might be right about at least one thing: a bigger, more robust border wall would likely slow down illegal immigration into the United States to some extent, at least in the short term.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to follow the evidence of crossings straight to where the current border wall ends. The barbed wire fence showed clear signs of crossings, whereas the steel border did not.

I must admit, President Trump might be right about at least one thing.

On the other hand, if you think that the situation at the southern border is such a crisis for Americans that it needs to divert billions of our tax dollars, that’s a different conversation. I could go over a laundry list of more urgent things that need funding more than a wall, but that’s not what I am aiming to do in this article.

And for those that are worried about all the “rapists” that are crossing the border, I challenge them to attempt to understand, or at least hear out, the other side of the issue. A good way to start is to shift your perspective to an internal problem and read up on the crimes and political meddling (yes, Russia did not invent this tactic) that our country has committed in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, just to name a few. It should be no surprise that life in the United States has caught the eye of those born to underprivileged situations in these countries that were deliberately destabilized by the US.

I hope that this story humanizes the people that are crossing, so they are not just an intangible idea that you see on the news, not just a game of politics. That sentiment is what I can say this quick trip reinforced for me. These are people that drink water, just like you and me. They wear jackets when it’s cold, just like you and me. They too brush their teeth. They are looking for a peaceful place to live where they can create a future for their family, just like you and me.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.


Citations

[1] If this information is out on the internet, I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I just decided to add up the numbers myself.

*These counties do not border Mexico, but they are pretty damn close so I tossed them in.

Border countyPopulation (2017)
CA – San Diego3,338,000
Imperial182,830
AZ – Yuma207,534
Pima1,023,000
Santa Cruz46,212
Cochise124,756
NM – Hidalgo4,305
Grant*27,687
Luna24,078
Dona Ana215,579
Otero65,817
Eddy56,997
Lea68,759
TX – El Paso840,410
Hudspeth4,408
Jeff Davis2,280
Presidio7,156
Brewster9,337
Terrell810
Val Verde49,205
Kinney3,745
Maverick58,216
Dimmit*10,418
Webb274,794
Zapata14,322
Starr64,454
Hidalgo860,661
Cameron423,725
Total8,009,495

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

14 comments on “I went to an unfenced section of the southern border. Here’s what I found.

  1. shelleyjerman says:

    Thanks for this Evan. Hardly has the look of a national emergency. One interesting thing to do is to ask the people who own the border properties, including the one you crossed, what they they think think about it. Downside to this is you are probably in a visual database now thanks to some drone or other.

    Like

    1. Yes, not as scary as the news makes it look. They already got me in the database from all the times I crossed the border by car and got sent to secondary inspection!

      Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    FROM UNCLE LEE Bravo, Evan! When we think about the struggles it takes the migrants from Honduras or Guatemala or from Mexico to even get TO the border, think how hearty those men and women and children who cross over to “El Norte” must be! It goes without saying that most of those immigrants become productive members of the U.S. workforce; their jobs not only in agriculture but in so many segments of America’s economy could easily be rewarded instead of being considered as elements of a crime! As usual, your writing improves with each new article and your photographs are fine illustrations of what you’re writing about. I was fascinated by your discovery of an old hair brush tossed or lost along the border trails. Even someone risking his or her life to cross that unwelcoming patch of desolation wants to look sharp!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lee, yes the every day items definitely help to humanize the situation. Toothbrushes, jackets, hairbrushes, etc. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    why is santa cruz on the list of counties?

    Like

    1. Santa Cruz County, Arizona

      Like

  4. Gloria (Evan's mom) says:

    Thank you for taking the time, asking the questions and stimulating some thought. I know many who have made the journey, including children. Many I am thinking of fled abuse, torture and war. I feel a deep sadness as I look at those items in the photos. I think of all the suffering those people have endured trying to survive. I am reminded of all the children who have not been reunited with their families who were taken at the border….now, there is an emergency!
    I am proud of you beyond words.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article, well done! Felt like I was walking along with you.
    This helps to shift the opinion of a “nat’l emergency” for me.
    Thank you…keep truckin’ Evan!
    Friend of Mom.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous says:

    So do you think everyone should be allowed to come to the United States?

    Like

    1. Hello, Yes I think we can accept more people, especially those who are seeking political asylum. Please put your name on the comment next time if you want a more thorough response. Thanks!

      Like

      1. Anonymous says:

        No one in Mexico really qualifies for the United Nations definition of refugee:

        “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”

        “The definition of refugees was actually intended to exclude internally displaced persons, economic migrants, victims of natural disasters, and persons fleeing violent conflict but not subject to discrimination amounting to persecution.”

        Like

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