On Sunday, I stood at the end of a barren cul-de-sac overlooking a field on the U.S. side of the border, staring toward Mexico.
President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes were off in the distance, about a mile away. This area — the ironically named “Free Speech Zone” — was as close as the public can get to the prototypes. (If you are on the Mexican side of the border, however, you can get a lot closer.) In anticipation of protests, temporary signs were posted on street poles, prohibiting the possession of firearms, daggers, slingshots, sticks, bats, pepper spray and other “implements of riots.”
The 30-foot-tall segments stood out, like Cadillacs stuck in the desert floor. One day, perhaps they will be a reminder of a particularly hysterical American political moment: Trump’s Folly.
The wall, which began as a bit of campaign trail hyperbole, is an act of hostility toward Mexico and a sop to Trump’s base. You can argue all you like about the integrity of national borders, but the wall is the physical manifestation of the racism that Trump has so often expressed toward the Mexican people, who, through no fault of their own, are not Norwegian.
I understand, though, that the wall is thrilling to people who think the country has suffered from illegal immigration or feel that people who violate the rules should be punished, even as they put food on your table, build your houses and clean your homes. While I was peering at the prototypes, a few people pulled up next to me to check them out. Most, like an aerospace industry salesman named Don Johnson, approved.
“I think the wall should have happened 30 years ago,” said Johnson, 52, who lives in Chula Vista. “I’m a fan of what Donald Trump is trying to do. We need to know who is in our country.”
Baron Partlow, 55, who had arrived with two friends, agreed. “I really welcome President Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ platform,” said Partlow, a loquacious industrial marine painter and environmental activist who lives in Nestor, a residential neighborhood 1.8 miles north of the border. “Any way into the United States needs to be secured, especially in this day and age.”
I found these sorts of comments ironic. There is already a double fence separating this part of California from Mexico. It’s 14 miles long, and runs from Otay Mesa into the Pacific Ocean. It’s a scar on the land. Walls — or fences — like these create more problems than they solve.
Last week, my Los Angeles Timescolleague Cindy Carcamo wrote a story about a wall that was erected on the U.S.-Mexico border near the town of Jacumba Hot Springs as part of the “Operation Gatekeeper” border fortification and immigration crackdown of the 1990s. The man in charge of that operation, Mark Reed, now retired, told her that the wall had unintended consequences.
In decades past, seasonal workers had been able to cross back and forth with relative ease. But after President Ronald Reagan granted 2.7 million immigrants amnesty in exchange for tighter border security in 1986, the border became less porous and migrant workers were effectively locked inside the U.S. They smuggled their families in, laying the groundwork for later backlashes against illegal immigration.