El Paso Never Wanted a Barrier (A History Lesson)

Back in 1978, the administration of President Jimmy Carter proposed replacing the old fence along the border between El Paso, Texas, USA, and Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, with a new six-and-a-half-mile barrier, the reaction from Texas politicians was swift and certain: No goddamn way.

Yeah, before the ludicrous fearmongering, and during a time of many more border crossings by undocumented migrants, the idea of a wall was offensive. They derided it as "the Tortilla Curtain," and worse. One Democratic representative who was running for Senate said, "It's an offensive symbol and I don't like it."

Even more offended, here's how William Clements, the Republican candidate for Governor of Texas, described it: "I don't believe that we and Mexico should have any sort of Berlin Wall on our borders." And Bill Clements won the race, becoming the first GOP governor of Texas since Reconstruction.

On both sides of the border, in places that had just recently declared themselves "sister cities," there was outrage. “I've lived here on this border long enough to see that a fence isn't going to stop anything,” said the US Catholic Conference's director of refugee services. Activists for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were appalled at the idea of the fence.

If you ever lived in a border community back in that day, you knew that workers just came and went, back and forth, to the U.S. to work and to Mexico for home. You may have worked alongside them. You may have employed them. But, mostly, you just kinda didn't give a shit. Indeed, if you did give a shit, it was because you loved exploiting the Mexicans for their cheap labor. Otherwise, yeah, fuck it, who cares if someone crosses to do a shit job. Essentially, the economies of two tightly nestled cities on a border were (and are) woven together. Hell, starting in 1942, over a generation before, the U.S. was encouraging thousands of Mexicans to come over and work with the idea that they'd gain skills they could use back home. That program lasted until 1964.

Objections to the 1978 fence/barrier/Curtain were based, at least in part, on the fact that it was designed for maximum cruelty. It was meant to drive migrants into desert crossings, rather than safer urban routes, and it was meant to physically harm anyone who tried to cross it by topping it with razor wire and barbed wire. When construction did start in 1979, the razor and barbed wires were gone, and it was much shorter, as was another fence in San Ysidro, California. Jimmy Carter, in consultation with a pissed-off Mexican president, had pulled back on some of the savage aspects of the fence.

But it wasn't just politicians and activists who opposed the new, extended fence. One poll of influential business and other leaders in El Paso showed 70% of them were against it. To be sure, there were supporters, as people who answered an unscientific survey by the El Paso Herald Post showed: "Build it 2,000 miles long," said one. "But we'd prefer a cheaper way, a minefield," said another. The more things change...

Another more random (if small-sample) survey done in 1979 showed that, among regular residents of El Paso, "34 percent opposed the fence, 34 percent supported it, and 32 percent were neutral," while among merchants in town, "62 percent opposed it, 28 percent favored it, and 10 percent were neutral." And, by the way, this was during a time when there were real clashes between Mexican migrants and U.S. Border Patrol agents, not the fake crisis that the Trump administration is insisting is happening despite what our lying eyes tell us. Those violent incidents in 1977 were prompted by the brutality of the Border Patrol.

Part of the strategy from back then has been embraced by wall/fence lovers since: drive the immigrants to the deserts where they might die. And make the fence as dangerous as possible to anyone who might dare cross it.

But El Paso has known for decades and decades that the barrier is bullshit, at best. And at Trump's idiot rally for his bussed-in idiot horde in that city he lied about in his State of the Union address, he's going to pretend he's their savior when they never asked for or wanted one.