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Facing the truth about the U.S.-Mexico border wall

The border wall between the U.S. and Mexico at Friendship Park in San Diego. Photo: Pedro Rios / AFSC

Building a wall along one border and not the other speaks of our racism more than our desire for security.

Last Sunday, I visited Friendship Park, which is located beside the wall that separates the U.S. from Mexico at the most southwest point of the continental United States. In the park, people whose families have been separated by borders and inhumane immigration policies were spread out along the wall, talking with each other across the barrier but unable to sit together, eat together, or hug each other.

As priests on both sides of the wall offered up their prayers, I pressed my hand against the steel wall. A man stood on the other side of the wall, his hand pressed against mine with only the barrier between our outstretched palms. We stared at each other in silence through the steel mesh.

As I looked into that man's eyes, I could not help but reflect on the contrast between Friendship Park and Peace Arch Park, located at the most northwest point of the continental United States in my hometown of Blaine, Washington. In Peace Arch Park, the border runs through the center of a large white arch, which stands in the middle of an open park shared between the U.S. and Canada. The arch has a gate at its center, but that gate is bolted open and will only be closed if the U.S. and Canada are at war.

When I was growing up, I picnicked at Peace Arch Park, raced in cross country meets in the park, and celebrated birthdays in the park. I crossed freely between the U.S. and Canadian sides of the park. And families separated by the border can freely meet in the park to share a meal, spend time together, and hug.

Peace Arch Park in Washington state, where people are free to cross the border between the U.S. and Canada. Photo: Jasperdo via Flickr Creative Commons

Standing at the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, I could not help but reflect on what it would mean to have a wall go up along the northern border. Communities would be divided. Families would be separated. Local economies would collapse. The environment would be devastated. The impacts are too many to name.

During my visit to Friendship Park in San Diego, women on the Mexican side of the wall read letters and offered prayers for their children in the United States from whom they had been separated by deportation. As they cried for the children whom they could not see, I thought of all the families who will be separated if the current wall is expanded and deportations increase. How can we wish such separation on anyone?

The arguments for expanding the wall between the U.S. and Mexico focus on concerns about "terrorism," immigration violations, and drugs, but how can I accept these arguments in support of a wall in the south while the northern border remains open?

Growing up on the U.S.-Canada border, I saw the impact of smuggling and crime on my hometown. Drug smuggling has had a significant impact on my community, and many people I went to school with ended up in prison for drug-related offenses. Many people also enter and leave the U.S. without documentation along trails between the U.S. and Canada, and others pass through northern border crossings with documentation, which they then overstay. Since 9/11, policing of the northern border has increased, but immigration violations, drugs, and crime remain issues at the border. Smuggling and cross border migration are realities at all borders, and they will not stop because of a wall.

A visitor to Friendship Park in San Diego peers through the steel border wall into Mexico. Photo: AFSC/Pedro Rios

It goes without saying that I don’t write about these problems at the norther border to propose a wall in the north. I write about these issues to point out that our borders—north and south—are not so different.

It is not security or immigration concerns that have allowed us to justify the building of the wall along the border with Mexico while considering our northern border differently. The reality is that none of our borders are or can ever be "secure" or "closed." The building of a wall along one border and not the other speaks of our racism more than our desire for security.

Before the 1990s, no wall existed along our southern border, and it is my prayer that we can return to that reality. May no new walls be built, and may existing walls fall.

The families who visit Friendship Park deserve the same right to interact with their families in Mexico that families split between the U.S. and Canada have in Peace Arch Park.

It is time for all of us to lift our voices and say that the building of walls does not bring security.

Walls do not address immigration and migration concerns. Walls do not stop the flow of drugs. Walls do not stop cross border crime where it exists. Expanded walls will not do anything except give a few people a false sense of increased security, but at what enormous political, economic, and human cost?

It isn't a wall that we need. What we need are humane policies that respect and protect people, and such policies should be the goal of our advocacy and protest.

When the prayers in Friendship Park came to an end, the man across from me squeezed the tip of his pinkie through the wall, offering it to me to touch.

As I touched his finger with my own, he said, "Peace be with you." 

"And also with you," I replied.

Now I return home where I must struggle to turn those words into reality for all people, to work for a future without walls.

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About the Author

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Palestine-Israel Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US. 

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