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Beyond Trump’s Border Wall

CAS student from Mexico on those seeking refuge and opportunities

8

“Abajo! Rapido!” my dance teacher shouted one hot afternoon when I was 14. “Hide! Fast!” In the middle of warm-up, a sound like fireworks brought everyone in the hip-hop class to a standstill. I did not realize what was happening until I saw armed men on the rooftop of the adjacent building.

I had heard of the shootings between the military and the Mexican gangs—the “War on Drugs”—in my hometown of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, but I never imagined I’d be caught in the crossfire. As my teacher pulled me into a corner away from the windows, my head spun with confusion. The incident must have lasted only a few minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. I was speechless and hopeless. The phone lines went down, and all I could think about was my mother.

Mexican drug cartels have challenged the very essence of my community, and my country’s ability to keep its citizens safe. In the period between 2007 and 2014, the war against drug cartels claimed 164,000 homicide victims, many from my hometown. Compared to Mexico, the United States is safe. In most cities, you can stop by a pharmacy at midnight or bike during the day without fear. In Matamoros, we do not leave our homes past midnight. Many Mexicans impacted by violence abandon their country for the United States.

The fluidity of the Mexican-American border—which extends 2,000 miles from California to Texas and is marked by a 600-mile steel fence—is something most foreigners don’t understand. I grew up on this border, between Tamaulipas and the southernmost tip of Texas. Brownsville, Tex., is among the fastest growing places in the United States, thanks to its partnership with neighboring Matamoros.

Traveling from one country to the other is part of the culture of both American and Mexican societies. Mexicans cross the border every day for work, higher wages, and better education; after church on Sunday afternoons, families cross to the American side for lunch. Meanwhile, Americans cross to Mexico in search of cheaper goods and services, like manicures and groceries.

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Growing up, I attended a Catholic private school in Brownsville. Since my friends and I crossed the border to get to school, our parents alternated the drive. Traveling from Texas to Mexico was a breeze, no identification required. Meanwhile, entering the States involved car inspections and interrogations from the Border Patrol. On good days, the waiting line to cross the border ranged from 20 to 50 minutes, while on holidays, it could take up to three hours.

I have always felt as though I am not Mexican enough and simultaneously, not American at all. Even as a college student, I am torn between two worlds, where I must learn to be either Mexican or American, depending on where I am and the people who surround me. Mexicans call those who cross the border and study in American schools “gringos” and unpatriotic traitors, while in the United States, we are considered “minorities.”

Being part of two countries and two cultures may seem like an asset, an engaging way to live between two worlds with different languages and cultures. For me, however, living on the border has brought fear and insecurity.

President Donald J. Trump believes that Mexicans who cross the border are illegal immigrants bringing with them a flood of drugs and corruption. US authorities are establishing walls without understanding the people they are trying to keep out, or what is driving them across the border. President Trump’s plan to build another wall—paid for by Mexico—is nothing more than a strategy for distracting the public from the real problems facing the United States, like gun violence.

The fence constructed along the Mexican-American border under the George W. Bush administration cost $2.7 billion—and it didn’t accomplish much. Half of all unauthorized immigrants come into the United States through travel visas; when their visas expire, they make the daring decision to stay in a country where they have no rights to protect them. They are not “rapists” and “killers,” as President Trump claims. They are immigrants seeking refuge and opportunities unavailable in their home country.

The United States is a country of immigrants. While it can be hard for Americans to understand the cruelty and injustice so many Mexicans experience every day, it should not be a stretch to recognize values like freedom and safety as basic human rights.

I encountered violence on a typical summer afternoon. Experiences like this built my character and made me into a more courageous person willing to face social injustice. I am pursuing a career in public policy to equip myself with the power to change my community, my country, and the world.

8 Comments

8 Comments on Beyond Trump’s Border Wall

  • GS on 11.21.2017 at 7:48 am

    Thanks for the touching back story .. and in spite of how you may interpret my words, I am sorry for the violence you’ve experienced in the past and am glad you’re a fellow Terrier.

    Border security is an issue that’s become FAR more political than necessary with the impotency of our past two presidents, a badly functioning congress and a fourth estate that’s essentially abdicated it’s role in favor of partisan bloviating … there’s LOTS of black/white/hard when it comes to the border and border security that’s illogically being seen as gray/soft.

    To be crystal clear, you ARE Mexican (based on the way your story reads) … Mexico seems to be your country of birth and (I presume) you hold Mexican citizenship. To date, you’ve enjoyed a reasonably open border between Mexico and the US and that’s allowed you to gain an education and lots of other experiences in the US … BUT, at day’s end, you’re still a citizen of Mexico. You may sit in your home EVERY evening, wondering about your citizenship, but until you hold the green card, or possess the ‘little blue book’, you’re a Mexican citizen – period.

    The same is true of many of your former classmates and friends – except in reverse. They’re US citizens and while they may have enjoyed a relatively open border to get hair, makeup or whatever done inexpensively in Mexico, they’re born in the US and are therefore US citizens until their passports/citizenship papers state otherwise – period.

    No amount of ‘dreaming’ changes the facts … it’s really very black and white – and always had been … there are rules, which if/when followed yield a logical, if albeit rather weak, litmus test sort of result … we’re a country of laws and this is what we currently have as law (the illegal acts of Obama’s administration notwithstanding as they weren’t actually passed as law).

    Also, to be clear, those who cross the border without proper paperwork, or who overstay a visa, ARE here illegally – it’s just a fact … dislike the president as much as you want; he’s NOT wrong … we ARE
    a country of laws, and unless followed, we’ll become the lawless place that is your little City of Matamoros – and THAT’S not what anyone wants.

    Further, not every person in the US who may be here without proper documentation, or who crosses the border illegally, has done so or is here with bad intentions … in fact, many ARE here escaping violence and tyranny and SHOULD be granted some rights to stay … but there’s a process, and it’s a process must be believed in and followed if there’s to be anything of value to gaining US citizenship.

    That said, there are also a LOT of illegals who’ve crossed the border and are living here who DO have bad intent … gangs, drugs, violence, etc, and we NEED them to be gone!

    Because immigration, borders and border security have been ignored for so long, the only certainty is that this is NOT going to be a smooth exercise being undertaken by the Trump administration … mistakes WILL be made along the way, we may/may not need a bigger or stronger border wall, and getting buy-in from the electorate will not happen fast and because of politics never be complete (cause remember, there was a pretty large percentage of people who didn’t see Obama’s actions as anything other than illegal – not all Americans supported his executive orders) .. but I’ll hold on to my basic faith and belief that if the intentions remain pure and the politics are held in check, we’ll get to a good result for the United States – which should preserve the integrity and value of US citizenship, meaning that it’ll be in the best interest of others too.

    Again, keep your eyes high and don’t lose the horizon in all the depth of politics.

    Best wishes.

    • Geoffrey on 11.21.2017 at 11:19 am

      Very well said, indeed. While not all, even most, that cross the southern border and enter illegally are violent gang members, some are. If the U.S. cannot control its borders it cannot prevent these people from entering the country. But, let’s be clear: non-citizens entering the country without permission is illegal. That’s why such people are, properly, called “illegal aliens”. I’m all for immigration and I’m very much in favor of dramatically expanded immigration from our southern neighbor. But, this must be done properly.

      I found this particularly galling…

      “President Donald J. Trump believes that Mexicans who cross the border are illegal immigrants bringing with them a flood of drugs and corruption. US authorities are establishing walls without understanding the people they are trying to keep out, or what is driving them across the border. President Trump’s plan to build another wall—paid for by Mexico—is nothing more than a strategy for distracting the public from the real problems facing the United States, like gun violence.”

      Frankly, this is deeply dishonest on many levels. First, the President never said all Mexicans who cross the border illegally are responsible for importing drugs or corruption. But, some are. Many are, even if they are not a majority. There’s no way to get a handle on this without securing the border.

      Second, it’s totally irrelevant whether we have an “understanding of the people they are trying to keep out”. It’s enough to understand that laws need to be enforced. The proper resolution is to change the law if you don’t like it. The proper resolution is not to ignore it when you don’t like it. That way leads to tyranny and chaos. It is tyrannical because it means that whoever possesses the political will and power simply does what they want–pretty much the formula for the “Phone and Pen” presidency of President Obama.

      Third, you claim all this is a smokescreen that it is “nothing more than a strategy for distracting the public from the real problems facing the United States, like gun violence”. This is so preposterous that I’m astonished that something like that could be written in any piece that purports to be serious. Of course, that’s not true. The U.S. faces many problems. It always has and always will and the reason for the President’s position is that illegal immigration is, by itself a serious problem, and many citizens want something to be done about it. As far as “gun violence” is concerned, overall gun violence has decreased dramatically in the last 20 years–as if it matters whether someone is killed with a knife, a gun, or fists, in any case. All this has happened as the number of guns have increased. Most of the gun violence happens in hot pockets of lawlessness like South Side of Chicago. Literally, in this calendar year they’ve had 572 shot and killed, 2706 shot and wounded, and 617 homicides. This has been true for quite a long time–before President Trump was elected. I also find it ironically amusing that you claim you want to flee Mexico because “the war against drug cartels claimed 164,000 homicide victims, many from my hometown.”, but yet, “Compared to Mexico, the United States is safe. In most cities, you can stop by a pharmacy at midnight or bike during the day without fear.”, then claim President Trump is, “…distracting the public from the real problems facing the United States, like gun violence”. When, in fact, there isn’t a big problem with gun violence in the U.S., except in pockets like Chicago, which itself is awash in gangs in a political environment of strong gun control under the “leadership” of President Trump’s political opponents.

  • Kat Monahan on 11.21.2017 at 9:18 am

    Thank you for writing this, Barbara! Your courage is inspiring and I am grateful that you are here at BU making our world a better place.

  • BU Student on 11.21.2017 at 9:25 am

    Interesting choice to post this article right after a US border patrol officer was killed, and another officer sent to hospital in serious condition.

    Article mentions republican politicians that supported a wall. But fails to mention democratic politicians that suppored a wall, for instance Obama, Clinton, Schumer.

    Article conflates legal immigration with illegal immigration. Proponents of the border protection want to stop one, and not the other.

    I am an immigrant myself and I understand the centiment of wanting to be in a country that protects basic human rights. However breaking the laws of a country or being intellectually dishonest is not the way to advance the cause.

  • Also an immigrant on 11.21.2017 at 9:28 am

    I am also an immigrant to this country. Not from Mexico, though I have been to Mexico a couple times. To me, your story about the prevalent violence is the best illustration of why our southern border must be protected and guarded much better than it is today.

  • Logic Rules on 11.21.2017 at 9:41 am

    I do not understand why the Mexican people don’t unite and wipe out the cartels! When a cartel tried to take over a specific neighborhood in a very large American city, the neighborhood “bosses” sent a very clear (albeit violent) message to the outside “cartels”…this is our turf, don’t bother our people or you will pay the consequences. The cartel moved on.

    • Barbara Zayas on 11.21.2017 at 10:01 am

      I wish it were that easy. When you have violence and corruption engrained in a society for years, when you have politicians and leaders who engage in criminal organizations, when you have local police and local governments who would rather be “bought” for their own economic self-interest, when you have a society without trust because you simply don’t know who is involved in drug crime and who isn’t, it is hard to reconstruct a country from scratch. Mexico is home the most dominant drug organizations in the world today. What happens south of the border impacts not only Mexicans, but the entire world. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment by the way, it truly means a lot!

  • Gerald collins on 11.21.2017 at 9:43 pm

    I am first generation from immigrant parents who came here legally. I understand the immigrant experience.

    I have been to the border in Cali. Arizona and Texas. It is relatively easy to cross. While at the pima reservation in Az. I saw 10 people cross the border illegaloh and has cell phones to contact a car to meet them. The pima.indians don’t like illegal aliens crossing to their land as they have witnessed violence and property damage.
    We need border security. When I was in Guatamala I witnessed Mexican police beating guatamalians For illegally crossing into Mexico.
    I have been to different cities in Mexico and was surprised to se many wealthy people with their Guici bags and Porsche. Barbara,when you finish your studies why don’t you.work to make changes in the Mexican gov so we won’t have as many illegal aliens wanting to come to the US

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