Let’s start with a free association. ‘The Wall’ – Pink Floyd or Berlin, right? No, those likely would have been the top responses prior to Donald Trump’s signature campaign pledge to erect a big, ‘beautiful’ wall stretching the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas. We traveled to the border regions of Southeast, Texas to explore the consequences of the ‘Wall’ and the Donald’s companion proposal to deport 11 million illegal immigrants. Our piece on the topic aired on 3sat nano on July 21, 2016, and can be viewed here, starting at 7:24.
Christine filming the current border fence, routinely referred to as the ‘wall.’
Trump’s border wall idea is new only in its scope and grandiosity. As a result of the ‘Secure Fence Act’ of 2006, barriers already stretch through California, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas at a cost of about $3 billion.
Existing border fencing/walling is in red.
The current “walls” are 18 feet high. Getting over one isn’t hard. Outside McAllen, Texas, civil rights and environmental activist Scott Nicol showed us how the Border Patrol routinely gathers ladders used to climb over the ‘wall.’ Here, Scott also found a bag of still wet clothing, evidently once belonging to a group of people coming across the Rio Grande that very day.
Three billion dollars, the cost of the current border fence, wasted.
While 1,250 miles of the nearly 2000 mile border is in Texas, only a small portion of the present fencing is in the Lone Star State. That is because in California, Arizona and New Mexico, the structures are built on federal land. In Texas, however, over 90% of the property is privately held, and the government is required to initiate eminent domain procedures to build on private property and pay the owners. That costs a lot of money and is bad politics.
But not everyone in Texas was spared. Eloisa Tamez, a nursing professor, lives in Brownsville, an area affected by the current fencing. Her property was cut in two through an eminent domain proceeding. Eloisa, whose land has been in her family since a grant from the Spanish Crown, fought tooth and nail, unsuccessfully, in court to try to stop the construction, although she did receive modest compensation which she used to establish a scholarship.The fence that divides her property is not a true border. The border actually runs through the Rio Grande.The well-to-do and the powerful, such as the Hunt Family, which owns a golf course nearby, were able to avoid having their property confiscated or divided. A former-army officer herself, Eloisa not only resents the inequality in the decisions where to build, but also the militarization of her living space. She no longer feels free and safe. A President Trump would encounter potentially hundreds of Eloisa’s, and the eminent domain payments would nearly be incalculable, a point he ignores on the campaign trail.
Eloisa Tamez, last holdout in an eminent domain war with Homeland Security.
Now, to get to the other side of her property, Eloise must drive on the highway and arrive at a gate. . .
enter a code. . .
and proceed to the remainder of her backyard, located in ‘No Man’s Land’ – an area between the Fence and Mexico.
The limited federal lands that do exist in Texas are referred to as ‘low-hanging fruit’ – ripe for border construction picking. We shot at the Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuges with Refuge Manager Bryan Winton. Much of the refuge is situated in ‘No Man’s Land,’ between a levee/border-wall and Mexico across the Rio Grande.
Bryan Winton, looking across the Rio Grande on to Mexico, from the Wildlife Refuge that he manages.
Bryan told us how the levee wall was impacting species who were now unable to travel freely within their ecosystem, consisting of both sides of the border. The division of the population likely was causing genetic isolation. The ability of species to traverse by land would be eliminated entirely by Trump’s wall. Moreover, animals were in danger from flooding on the refuge-side of the barrier. The risk is particularly severe for the ocelot, a small jaguar-like cat, of which there are only 50 left on the U.S. side. Environmental laws that once protected the animals in the habitat were waived with the Homeland Security Secretary’s stroke of a pen. One can anticipate that legislation authorizing Trump’s Wall would allow for similar waivers. The candidate is openly scornful of construction delays caused by environmental impact.
Bryan, driving along the current Wall at the refuge. The barricade interrupts the habitat of species, particularly the endangered ocelot. Consequences could be even more dire if Trump’s Wall is built.
Trump’s Wall would dwarf the existing 18′ structures, rendering them obsolete. Depending on the candidate’s mood, he has pronounced that his Wall, made all from concrete, would be 2-3 times higher. That would require enough concrete to build a single-lane highway from Los Angeles to New York. . .
but not across the continental U.S. . .
. . .instead, ‘Trump Boulevard’ would use enough concrete to extend around the globe!
For all of the Trump Wall’s expense, environmental impact and cost to freedom, everyone that we spoke with, without exception, thought that it wouldn’t work in keeping out illegal immigration and drugs. People would still go over it, around it in any section where there wasn’t yet walling, and as Scott Nicol explained. . .
even if land routes were entirely blocked, people would try to enter by water, and it would be “Miami Vice all over again.”
Trump’s plan for ‘Fortress America’ includes the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants. From his campaign rhetoric, one would think that almost all of these were Mexican, but in fact the number is approximately half. Nonetheless, given the Republican Nominee’s open contempt for Mexicans, one could expect him to try to move aggressively on his pledge. While the majority of the Latino population is “legal,” the community of documented and undocumented is closely intertwined, and it is common within families to have both “legals” and “illegals.” As a practical matter, the only way that Trump could make good on his deportation pledge is to stop everyone on the street and go door-to-door.
In places like Brownsville, normal street life may suddenly become perilous. . .
. . .as everyone is put under suspicion of being illegal, and stopped en masse and forced to prove their citizenship or lawful residency.
Jaime Diez is a leading immigration attorney in Brownsville. He is concerned that Trump could legally employ police state-type tactics to stop and round people up. Constitutional protections are not strong enough to stop Trump. He only questions the feasibility of suddenly putting 11 million people through the immigration system, given the need to exponentially expanding the number of detention facilities, judges and lawyers.
Lawyer Jaime Diez advising a client. The law is already tough for mixed legal/undocumented families, with fear of deportation constantly looming. Enforcement may become oppressive under Trump.
In the end, would a President Trump be able to build his Wall and deport millions? Could he even go further in implementing his ethnic policies and vision of a Fortress America – electronic monitoring, detention camps, etc. The logical answer is ‘No, these things could not be accomplished’ to all of the above. Yet, we are no longer fully operating within the realm of reason – if we were, Donald Trump never would have come this far. At the same time, never underestimate the power and urge for freedom existing in humans – and in all creatures.
The closing sequence, our viewpoint.