The heart of the relationship between the United States and Mexico begins with the line that divides them. It is a boundary both sharp and invisible – depending on where you stand.
By Levi Bridges Original Print Publication: June, 2008
In January the Department of Homeland Security announced plans for a $2 billion budget for
the Secure Border Initiative that includes the fence.
planned length of fence being built by the Department of Homeland Security.
370 MILES constructed so far.
$70 MILLION USD:
estimated possible cost of constructing and maintaining 1 mile of fence for 25 years.
1,969 MILES (3,169 KM): length of entire US-Mexico border.
"Yes, you can get over it; yes, you can get under it. But it is a useful tool that makes it more difficult for people to cross. It is one of a number of tools we have, and you've got to use all of the tools," - Michael Cherkoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, told the New York Times.
The Border Film Project
This project distributes disposable cameras to undocumented migrants crossing into the US
through the desert and to Minuteman Project volunteers at observation points in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California. To date, the project has received 38 cameras from migrants, 35 cameras from Minutemen, and nearly 2,000 photos in total. Photos can be viewed at: www.borderfilmproject.com
• 73 % JUMP in price in methamphetamines from January – September, 2007
• 44 % PRICE INCREASE for cocaine during the same period
• 34 DRUG-RELATED KILLINGS on May 20th in Mexico
• 230 PEOPLE KILLED in drugrelated violence in Ciudad Juárez during 2008 as of early May
• 2,500 estimated number of drug-related murders in 2007 in Mexico
• 90 % OF COCAINE entering the US transits Mexico (State Department Estimate)
• $13.6-$48.4 BILLION USD: estimated annual range of wholesale illicit drug sale earnings in the US
• 1,300 PEOPLE KILLED in drugrelated violence so far in 2008 in Mexico
• 25,000 TROOPS and federal police dispatched by Calderón since 2006 to fight drug cartels
• 1 US Border Patrol agent killed
in 2008 by suspected drug
As I round the corner towards the bridge over the Tijuana River, two cops yell at me to stop. I pick up my pace, gripping my passport and money inside my pockets with sweaty palms.
They yell again and I start running.
Looking back, I see them pursuing me. I surrender. The officers slam me against a building, hands in the air. The contents of my pockets disappear into their hands for inspection.
"Why did you run? Are you carrying drugs?” asks the larger cop in broken English.
"No,” I reply. "I had heard that many Tijuana cops extort foreigners. So when you asked me to stop, I ran.”
"Listen,” he says, "there are some bad people in Tijuana, but you need to remember that not everyone is bad police."
They let me go, the contents of my backpack in complete disarray after their hasty search, and I continue towards California.
MORE THAN JUST A LINE
For better or worse, Tijuana and San Diego are in a complex, co-dependent relationship that dates back to a simpler time. Early in the 19th century the two cities were both part of Mexico and Tijuana was a peaceful ranching village.
The Mexican-American War, which ended in 1848, would change the destinies of both cities, as well as countless towns, from the west coast to the southwest, which suddenly became part of a different country.
“Today, many southern Californians who live near large Latino communities do not realize that many people of Mexican descent have been US citizens for generations. The border passed over them,” explains Andrea Skorepa, CEO of Casa Familiar, a nonprofit organization that works with Latino communities in San Diego County.
Following the war, Tijuana grew relative to nearby California’s booming economy. Prohibition drew tourists to Tijuana’s cabarets and bars, and the population expanded in response to American spending on both sides of the border.
Today, Tijuana is home to 1.5 million people and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Droves of immigrants from throughout Mexico arrive daily, seeking work in maquiladora factories on the Mexican side or as legal day laborers in the US, or looking to attempt to cross the border in hopes of joining America’s increasing illegal workforce.
As the police let me go, I cross the bridge over the Tijuana River, a murky stream of water flowing from Mexico into a sewage treatment plant in California, and take my place in the sprawling line of people waiting at the busiest overland border crossing in the world.
This is the point where America, that dominating entity that hovers at the nucleus of world affairs, physically collides with another nation.
An hour later, I get my brief interview with a US customs official and pass through a metal detector into the home of the brave.
The visual effect of passing from Tijuana into California is like cleaning a dusty window; suddenly the world seems healthy, flawless, and more efficient.
Stepping onto the Blue Line trolley headed towards downtown San Diego, away from Tijuana’s smog-billowing bus system, evokes a marvelous sense of convenience. As the train glides away, views of Tijuana’s crowded hillsides give way to neat American suburbs.
Days in north Mexico leave you dazzled when you rediscover the existence of glitzy American shopping malls, immaculate sidewalks, and the palm-lined avenues of downtown San Diego.
Crossing back into Mexico that afternoon, I pass through a turnstile gate. Nobody asks me to wait in line or even to show identification.