Activists say Bring down the wall

TUCSON, Ariz. – Kicking off a campaign to “Bring down the wall” on the border with Mexico, a broad-based coalition of community organizations and individuals held a teach-in here May 31. Organizers of the teach-in, which included environmentalists, human rights activists and indigenous people, are determined to reverse U.S. Border Patrol plans that would expand the existing 15-foot-high solid metal wall and physically seal off three-quarters of the state of Arizona from Mexico.

Sean Garcia from the Washington, D.C.-based Latin American Working Group displayed a graph prepared by the U.S. Border Patrol, “Apprehensions of Undocumented Migrants by Sector, 1993-2003,” that dramatically depicted both the undiminished numbers and the shift in migration patterns resulting from Border Patrol policies over the last decade.

No wall or fence will stop the migration of people desperate for work, he said. Sealing off areas has never diminished, let alone stopped, the flow north, but only funnels traffic to even harsher terrain, causing yet more deaths, he added.

Participants said current plans to expand the wall will further force migrant crossers into the most inhospitable, mountainous, and dangerous terrain of the Sonoran Desert in the western quarter of Arizona and through vast isolated stretches of the uninhabited Chihuahuan desert of New Mexico where the fence would end.

The Border Patrol’s plan would plunder the desert with over 255 additional miles of solid 15-foot-high wall, 880 more miles of border roads, 145 remote surveillance cameras, and 410 stadium-style lights with generators, according to documents distributed to participants.

The Border Patrol has yet to reveal what types of materials will be used to build the massive structure, its exact location, or its actual cost. Estimates range up to $1 million per mile (a total of $255 million) for the wall alone. At an average estimated cost of $150,000 for each fixture, lighting would come to an additional $22 million.

There are no estimated figures for the remote cameras, helicopters, vehicles, maintenance, agents, or the road construction that will run through seven environmentally-sensitive areas including the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.

The conferees expressed outrage at Republican Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, a big booster of the wall policy, comparing him to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who supported the building of a wall through his district between San Diego and Tijuana. According to figures from Rep. Hunter’s office, this 14-mile double fence with cameras, lights and roads cost $3 million per mile. Lauren Altes, speaking for San Diego’s Safe Border Coalition, reported, “The wall did not slow migration, it only shifted it to Arizona, and the deaths soared.”

Arizona human rights activists charge that U.S. immigration policy and Border Patrol actions have resulted in over 2,000 migrants’ deaths recorded since 1996.

Already this year, people are dying in the desert around Tucson at a rate of one every other day and summer has not even begun. “This area has become a vast killing field for migrants,” said Isabel Garcia, spokesperson for Derechos Humanos of Tucson. “Last year, 145 died in Arizona alone,” Garcia continued, “and who knows how many more whose bodies were never found in this remote vast oven where the desert floor reaches temperatures of 175 degrees – it is impossible to know. Bring down the wall!”

Note: In next week’s World, correspondent Susan Thorpe’s report continues with an analysis of the environmental impact of the wall.

The author can be reached at Susan@SusanThorpe.com