|Photo via Prof. Kit Johnson, used w/ permission.|
Because of the snaking course of the Rio Grande, which marks the international boundary with Mexico, the border fence was built on top of the levee, in some places a mile or more from the river, marooning thousands of acres of bucolic farmland, native habitat sanctuaries and private landowners on its southern flank.This is exactly the sort of dystopic scenario that made me oppose a border fence in the first place. As Grits wrote in 2008, "From the moment Congress first proposed putting a wall along the Rio Grande on Texas' southern border to reduce illegal immigration, I thought it was not just a bad idea but an insane one. As far as I can tell, when it's finished the United States will be the first nation state in the history of the planet to wall off a major river and leave the river on the other side!"
Today, there are roughly 56 miles of border fence and wall in the Rio Grande Valley alone, none of which changed the underlying character of the land — what was farmland before remains farmland today.
Yet, critics argue, the fence not only disrupts communities and impedes residents’ ability to move freely the nearer they are to the fence, it has also created a “Constitution-free” region where Border Patrol enforcement faces less oversight.
“What they’ve essentially created is a no-go zone,” said Joseph Nevins, associate professor of geography and chairman of earth science and geography at Vassar College, who studies the U.S.-Mexico border and is familiar with the Rio Grande Valley. “The very act of being in a particular place invites suspicion.”
At least three times in recent years, witnesses reported that Border Patrol agents shot and killed people along the Texas-Mexico line without justification. One man in Matamoros was fatally shot from across the Rio Grande in Brownsville in July 2012.
Late last week, the Border Patrol directed its agents to limit their use of force in certain situations [details here] after a recent report by independent law enforcement experts criticized the Border Patrol for a policy that led to the killing of at least 19 people.
For its part, the agency says agents are authorized to search any vehicle between the fence and the river if they have “reasonable suspicion” that unauthorized immigrants are aboard.
Border patrol officials insisted “it’s not a no man’s land” because “We are out there [and] … so are aliens and smugglers.” But to me, that's the definition of a "no man's land" - a place where the lack of legitimate public life breeds lawlessness, both by emboldening criminals and removing constitutional restraints from authorities. And because most illegal immigration happens at the checkpoints, the wall has done little to achieve the goal of reducing it. "More immigrants illegally enter the United States through the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector than any other," reported the McAllen Monitor last fall.
So, what exactly was the point of building that monstrosity again?