Don’t Fence Me In

Before we left South Padre Island, I drove to nearby Brownsville, Texas, to see the border crossing into Mexico. We neglected to bring along our passports (having packed them in our luggage that is sitting at home awaiting our upcoming trip to England), so I knew I couldn’t cross over into Mexico and return through US Customs.

The Rio Grande River separates the United States from Mexico and around Brownsville there are three border crossings, one of which is primarily for pedestrians. Here’s the main vehicular border crossing on U.S. Highway 77, used by trucks and cars:

And here’s the crossing near the heart of Brownsville, used mostly by pedestrians, although a few cars go through here, too. Cars to the left, pedestrians to the right. Inside the small building on the right, pedestrians pay a small toll, go through a turnstile, then cross the Rio Grande on a foot bridge to the Mexican Customs station.

There is very heavy security in this area, with a fence that must be nearly 20 feet high, running the full length of the river on the US side. Here’s a photo of the pedestrian crossing that I took through the fence.

I can’t say what the border fence looks like elsewhere along the Texas/Mexico border, but I can tell you with certainty that nobody will easily sneak into the USA near Brownsville, Texas.

When I first started thinking about this post, I was reflecting on these mammoth fences along the border and the fact that it looks like we have our own Berlin Wall here in the USA. I was thinking: why is it that we, a nation of immigrants, work so hard to keep out the brown-skinned poor to our south, while along our northern border with Canada (where we visited in the RV just a few months ago) it seems like you could slip across with the same ease that we cross from Florida to the Bahamas? I was thinking: there has to be a better approach than just walling ourselves off from an entire nation.

But, then, when I was checking us out of the KOA yesterday, I mentioned to the two women working the desk that I had wanted to drive over into Mexico, but couldn’t because I had left my passport at home. Their eyes widened in horror!

“Oh, we NEVER drive into Mexico around here,” they said. “We go up to the pedestrian crossing 60 miles northwest to go over, but we don’t go into the country very far at all, just to the market that’s right there at the border. It’s still safe up there near Progresso. They say it’s because a single drug lord up there dominates the place, so everything is relatively calm. Down here at Matamoros, the Mexican border town opposite Brownsville, the police have given up and there’s all kinds of violence between the competing drug gangs.”

So, until Mexico puts in place the institutional framework that we take for granted here in the USA, that is, a legal and political system to control rampant crime, I think I’ll side with the fence advocates. It just wouldn’t work for us to have open borders with Mexico now – it would turn out just like Cuba where all the people with the ability and incentive to change things simply fled, leaving the country to collapse into chaos and poverty.

Of course, here in the USA, we contribute to Mexico’s drug trade problems by creating the market and incentive for the drug lords down there, so we, as a nation, should be having a debate on how to change our drug laws in a way to make Mexico’s drug trade less profitable. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the day that we can safely travel into Mexico and the average Mexican can see this sign:

One thought on “Don’t Fence Me In

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