September 17, 2018
EL PASO, Tex. The Wall is already there. Not the one the Trump Administration is flogging constantly. A wall of about eight feet of stone, topped with razor wire, as well as a high steel fence, separates El Paso from Juarez, Mexico, at the international transit point between the two cities. It serves to channel the flow of motor and foot traffic towards the security checkpoints. Thousands cross legally in both directions every day: Mexican students at Univ.-Texas El Paso, and at various high schools, American students studying in Mexico, technical people, executives, and managers at dozens of high-tech and heavy manufacturing businesses, teachers, hotel managers, restaurant staffers, tour guides, and on and on.
The people of these neighboring cities, living their own lives, don’t generate conflict or animosity, which is imposed on border policy by scapegoating outsiders. Border security personnel surveil those thousands of crossers and frequently apprehend very bad people. But with a few exceptions, they are not of Juarez or El Paso. That’s not a theory of mine, but one validated by those with years of experience here.
We did walk over to the border and saw the wall and fence, and the security personnel doing their jobs. The tragedy of family separations of last summer didn’t occur among those who live, work, and study here tolerantly and respectfully of their neighbors. They occurred because desperate poverty, lack of work, and fear for life at home drove Central Americans to test the border.
The border here is a place of prosperity. Businesses of all kinds boom along El Paso Street, which extends from the international crossing the half-dozen blocks to our hotel. People stream through the gate, dressed for work or school, in large and small groups. Vendors chatting in Spanish and English arrange their shelves loaded with merchandise: clothing, shoes, small electronics, jewelry, oddball stuff—big sombreros, sharp-looking cowboy boots polished to a high sheen. Shopkeepers smiled and waved as we walked by. It was the start of a new workday. Were desperate people hiding in Mexican culverts watching for their chance to make it across? They were, and are. But fast-paced business activity was taking place here, giving people economic purpose, decent incomes, and enduring hope.