Day 9: A Fence in the Desert
Every 30 minutes, a three-man crew of U.S. workers outside El Paso, Texas, welds another segment of steel border fence into place. The sections are 6 feet wide and 20 feet tall capped by solid panels, replacing a shorter chain-link fence that looks like something you’d find at a Little League field.
This stretch of fencing just west of the New Mexico state line was started before President Donald Trump’s election, reinforcing part of the 650 miles of barriers along the nearly 2,000-mile frontier. If Trump makes good on promises to wall off the rest, one likely place for that to begin is the desert west of here where the government controls the land, avoiding possible legal challenges.
Randy Calderon is a 44-year-old retired U.S. Army military police officer and a specialist in security and anti-terrorism. Speaking at an El Paso gun shop, as rounds pop off at the shooting range, he says a border barrier makes sense if executed properly.
“I believe a wall should be there,” Calderon says.
“It’s a visual deterrent ... a slow-down,” he adds, “which gives the security guards on the inside a chance to respond.”
However Calderon prefers the kind of fencing being built right now to the solid wall that has been proposed. With an impermeable wall, he says, blowing sand could build up until people could just walk over. He argues for sensors to alert when it’s breached.
“It’s going to make a lot of people money,” Calderon says, “because you’re looking at steel, concrete, posts, baseline, sensors.”
Three miles to the south lies Anapra, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez where residents have fought to get running water, electricity and paved streets. Here and elsewhere on the Mexican side of the border, people have lived with the fence for years and are unimpressed with all the wall talk.
Many consider it a waste of money _ an estimated $12 billion to $21 billion for a continuous barrier from the Gulf to the Pacific. Some say America has the right to build whatever it wants on its own soil _ it’s just seen as unfriendly, and Trump’s vows to make Mexico pay for it as insulting.
Claudia Sanchez’s rented home backs up to the border in Anapra. The taller fencing reached her property a few days ago, but she says it has not slowed crossings. Each night people lean ladders against it and climb over.
“It’s not going to stop that,” Sanchez says.
Nearby, Arturo Simental and Marielena Camacho’s home stands out from the other drab, concrete-block and wood-pallet residences for the peach, apple, fig and pear trees that shade the yard. It’s an oasis coaxed from the desert.
Camacho was fond of gazing at the shimmering lights of Sunland Park, New Mexico, and the whooshing silver Amtraks that remind her of childhood train trips with dad. But the new fencing reached the house this week, blocking their panoramic view.
“It’s not going to be the same,” she says.”
Simental spent four years as a construction and dairy worker in Colorado, Texas and Wyoming before being deported in 1981. His parents and siblings are legal U.S. residents and citizens living in the Texas cities of Abilene and Fort Worth.
Simental is pragmatic about the wall: If it gets built, so be it. He’d probably even help if it meant earning some money. But he doubts it will be effective at deterring smuggling.
“Criminals are never going away,” Simental says. “The drug traffickers are never going away.”