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The Border Wall


Filmmaker Wayne Ewing on his newest documentary that explores the massive wall being built along the US/Mexico border.

The issues swirling around immigration into the United States have long been complicated, even before we were told to suspect everyone of terrorism and make every decision based on fear. For decades, the border we share with Mexico- which cuts through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas- has presented sundry concerns about how people get in and out of the country, what they bring with them (drugs, bombs, plague), and what they take out (money, white women, more money).

Even amid such a gloomy economy, our country still radiates hope and promise for people around the world looking for a better way of life. Just as the Europeans saw the New World as a land of milk and honey, today folks are still willing to risk everything for a slice of the American Dream. Immigration keeps our culture and economy thriving, and it’s no surprise that the U.S./Mexico border has the highest number of people crossing any land border in the world.

While American companies move jobs out of the U.S. to save a buck, workers from Mexico migrate north in hopes of finding jobs here, with more and more people immigrating from Mexico into the U.S every year.

Inevitably, the physical blockade between us and Mexico has been slowly enhanced. At first, this was merely a fortified fencing system with high-tech surveillance, and it worked as well as any real barrier would.

Even so, immigration kept rising, and with the number of visas granted far less than the number needed by the droves of people crossing the border, more and more people simply found their way around the fences, crossing the border in the more rugged terrain. Instead of looking at the barrier as a non-effective means of controlling immigration, the powers that be decided that they needed a more impregnable blockade: an 18-foot-tall steel (and sometimes concrete) wall separating us from our neighbors.

As it were, there are a ton of people living in the area directly surrounding the border, and most aren’t too thrilled about this massive partition cutting through their yards.

Wayne Ewing’s new film- The Border Wall- takes us down to the border to explore this issue from the citizens’ point of view, bringing us to the frontlines of this battle as it’s intensified over the past few years, and talking with the people most affected by erecting a massive barrier between us and Mexico.

“Last January,” Ewing tells us, “I read a story in The New York Times about Dr. Eloisa Tamez and her struggle to keep the Department of Homeland Security from seizing her small parcel of land along the Rio Grande near Brownsville, Texas that has belonged to her family since the King of Spain gave it to them in the mid-eighteenth century. Dr. Tamez's resistance to have her land used to build the wall has been central to delaying construction in south Texas over the last year.”

Ewing found loads of residents fighting the Department of Homeland Security from destroying their land under the guise of “national security.” Sadly, those who wouldn’t allow the DHS to come on their land found themselves sued by the government, with then DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff issuing waivers of various laws that protected citizens and the land from the dangers of such a construction.

Ewing notes, “many people have lost land in these suits, but noone that I found lost their home, although in the film you meet the Odles of Arizona who now have a wall running through their front yard.”

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 says that the purpose of the wall is “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.” The problem with this logic is that, as the wall is being erected, there are huge gaps left along the way. Some make sense, like where there are mountain ranges providing a natural deterrent. Others make no sense at all.

For instance, as The Border Wall shows, the wall stops at the River Bend Resort in Brownsville, TX, apparently because people at the resort don’t want the monstrous divider plowing through their vacation area…and they have the money and connections to prevent the construction. But then you look at the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in San Juan, where huge segments will effectively be destroyed by the wall. This makes the wall seem little more than a ruse to give people the illusion that our border is secure.

“Rather than tackle the real issues of illegal immigration,” Ewing points out, “it has been far easier for politicians, including President Obama who voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, to spend billions of dollars for a wall they can take pictures of and point to with pride to fool Americans into believing that they are making them safer and their jobs more secure.”

The idea of terrorists crossing the Mexican border is one that surely needs attention, but as justification for an 18-foot separation between our neighbors and us is beyond normal paranoid behavior. “Ironically,” Ewing adds, “the only 911 terrorists who did not enter the country through a major airport entered across our northern border with Canada, and then through an official Port of Entry.”

One of the many things The Border Wall proves is that the presence of the Border Patrol is fierce; all throughout the movie, as Ewing explores the border, you see Patrol vehicles practically pounce upon him almost from the moment he shows up. It quickly makes you question how necessary this wall really is.

Alas, Ewing wasn’t able to get the government’s side of the story. “I tried to get DHS and the Border Patrol to talk about the wall, with absolutely no success. The Border Patrol insisted on editorial control of my film before they would cooperate. I tried to explain the First Amendment of the Constitution to them and the concept of freedom of the press, but got no reply after that.”

Thankfully, there are plenty of people who are trying to make the best of matters, as Ewing captures in his film. He goes out with a group of volunteers that assists hikers on their arid journey with water and medicine. Naturally, some folks were hesitant to be filmed, for obvious reasons.

“In Sasabe, Mexico just across the border about 60 miles south of Tucson, Arizona I found what could be called the Grand Central Station of illegal immigration, filming hundreds of migrants on a Friday afternoon arriving in vans from Altar, Mexico and then transferring to pickup trucks that carry them over the last rough ten kilometers to the trail head near the border. While it is not illegal in Mexico to cross the border into the United States, the operators of this very lucrative enterprise did not appreciate it being filmed. I got my shots very quickly, did a couple of interviews, and then got the hell out of Dodge when a black SUV filled with armed men rolled down on us. On the US side of the border I only found stragglers left behind in the desert by their guides.”

The film also looks at locals living and working around the Rio Grande, which in itself has provided an effective barrier to people crossing the border. “The Rio Grande is wide enough that it slows migrants down far more than any wall,” Ewing notes. “I'm not sure there are any more natural barriers than a desert where the heat gets over 120 degrees in the summer. The best barrier to illegal immigration is to provide a process for granting a number of visas for people to come and work in this country that has a reasonable relationship to the demand for workers and the demand for work. Then people won't risk their lives crossing the deserts.”

Since filming the movie, construction on the wall has continued. “DHS has come close to meeting the goal set in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 to erect 670 miles of barriers along the 2,000 mile southern border by the end of 2008. Only about 100 miles remain to be built, primarily in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Bush's political appointees in the DHS (who have been held over in office by the Obama Administration) made a point of signing contracts for the sections that could not be built by the end of 2008, so that the Obama Administration will have to actively void those contracts to stop the wall in south Texas. Within a few months the last of the fragile Lower Rio Grande Valley wildlife refugees which the Fish & Wildlife Service has spent twenty years and hundred million dollars to create will be impacted.”

Ewing stresses the urgency of the matter when asked what can be done, considering that this wall isn’t just a disgrace to our culture of diversity, but it will also decimate the habitats it cuts through. “Write and email your congress people and DHS Secretary Napolitano. The sooner the better, because quite shortly it will be too late. In particular ask for the repeal of Section 102 of the Real ID Act which gives the DHS Secretary the power to waive any law that in his or her estimation stands in the way of the wall.

“Unfortunately, since Obama voted for the Secure Fence Act it is very likely that they will finish building the last of the planned sections in Texas, although the new Secretary of the DHS, Napolitano, has been quoted as saying ‘show me a 50 foot wall and I'll show you a 51 foot fence.’”

The Border Wall dvd also has an additional supplement called The Levee Wall, which focuses on a particular section of the wall being constructed on top of a flood levee in Hidalgo County, Texas. It’s a “cautionary tale,” as Ewing narrates, which shows how destructive this wall can be.

In Hidalgo County, they have literally built an 18-foot-tall concrete wall near the border, at some points going for more than 3 miles, slicing through massive parts of the Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge.

This additional segment has interviews with officials in charge of building the wall, as well as those opposed. Ewing manages to show a contractor contradicting himself in his own defense, which is quite amusing until you remember that this is how such a wretched barrier is going up.

It seems remarkable that something like this could take place in the United States, especially considering all the money and energy that goes into restoring a Wildlife Refuge. But with Chertoff issuing his lovely waivers, there is little that can be done to stop the wall.

If you sift through all the dogma and rhetoric, this wall is no different than the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China, except that those walls were more effective at keeping people out. Nevertheless, despite the fact that it simply will not work in this day and age, you have to wonder what the real purpose of this wall is. It doesn’t take long for “national security” to look more like a half-assed step toward proper isolationism.

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