Jeannette and Tito took me to the border wall here in Nogales on Thanksgiving Day. The wall divides the city into Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona; and it was designed to block impoverished Mexicans and Central Americans from entering the U.S. in search of work. It is fourteen feet high and topped with a fence, and is made of landing strip materials from the Gulf War.
A Border Patrol truck was parked on a hill, two hundred yards to the west. Another Border Patrol truck was parked on a hill, two hundred yards to the east, alongside a tall pole with surveillance cameras. “We’re probably being watched,” said Jeannette.
Bill Clinton began this militarization of the border after the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994. U.S. agricultural corporations used NAFTA to flood Mexico with subsidized corn grown in the U.S. for animal feed. The price of that corn was less than what it cost small farmers in Mexico to grow the corn that had been used for tortillas. The farmers couldn’t compete with U.S. agribusiness and more than two million of them lost their lands.
Displaced farmers, along with workers who had lost their jobs, crossed into the U.S. to seek employment. The Clinton administration built walls in the urban areas to push the migrants into more remote and hazardous terrain. The goal was to “Raise the risk…to the point that many will consider it futile to attempt illegal entry…Illegal traffic will be deterred or forced over more hostile terrain less suited for crossing.”
Militarization of the border was expanded by George Bush and Barack Obama. There are now more than 3,300 Border Patrol agents and 500 National Guard soldiers stationed along the Arizona border. During the last year, 253 people died in the desert of southern Arizona while attempting to migrate into the U.S.
In contrast, U.S. corporations are able to freely cross the border in search of profit. Applebee’s, Blockbuster Video, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Dairy Queen, Domino’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Office Depot, Papa John’s, Subway, and Wal-Mart all operate in Nogales, Sonora. Sixty five U.S. companies; including General Electric, Master Lock, Otis Elevator and Xerox; have assembly plants here with approximately 25,000 workers. The minimum wage on this side of the wall is $4.63 a day.
“I’ve been here in Nogales for 20 years,” said Engracia. “There used to be just a chain link fence and we could see through it to the other side. But then the wall blocked our vision and now we can’t see each other.”
Guadalupe Serrano, Diego Taddei and Alberto Morackis of the Junk (“Yonke”) Public Art Workshop created a huge mural on the Sonora side of the wall last year. Hundreds of photos of people comprise the “Migration Mosaic” that features four feet walking.
A variety of images and messages have been painted on the wall, including “Borders are scars on the earth” and “Walls turned on their sides are bridges.”
In love and solidarity,
Scott Nicholson serves with BorderLinks in Nogales, Mexico as a volunteer at the Community Center.