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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
 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 county||Population (2017)|
|CA – San Diego||3,338,000|
|AZ – Yuma||207,534|
|NM – Hidalgo||4,305|
|TX – El Paso||840,410|
15 thoughts on “I went to an unfenced section of the southern border. Here’s what I found.”
I enjoyed reading your article, and I appreciate the photographs that helped to bring your words alive. Keep up the good work!
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So do you think everyone should be allowed to come to the United States?
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!
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.”
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.
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Thanks for reading.
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.
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why is santa cruz on the list of counties?
Santa Cruz County, Arizona
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!
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Hi Lee, yes the every day items definitely help to humanize the situation. Toothbrushes, jackets, hairbrushes, etc. Thanks for reading.
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.
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!