Among the issues that helped to propel Donald Trump into the White House, it’s hard to think of one more divisive than his plan to build a towering border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
It’s not just controversial, it’s unpopular. A February poll by Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Americans oppose its construction, and 70 percent believe the U.S. will end up paying for it, not Mexico as Trump has promised.
Moreover, clear majorities in all four of the U.S. border states oppose the wall. Even in conservative Texas, the nonpartisan group Texas Lyceum found in a pre-election poll that 59 percent of Texans opposed its construction.
In the more liberal New Mexico, efforts have been made to put up barriers to Trump’s wall. A bill was introduced in this year’s state legislative session to bar the use of state lands in facilitating its construction. It didn’t pass but it is indicative of the opposition forming around what one of the bill’s sponsors, Albuquerque’s Rep. Javier Martinez, called an “ill-conceived idea.”
It seems that the idea of a massive, imposing border wall is more symbolic than practical. Symbolically, it represents the new nationalism that Trump has conjured up. Practically, it appears to be a colossal waste of money and a major step backward in our relations with Mexico.
Now that the Obamacare “repeal and replace” promise has been abandoned, at least for the time being, I suspect The Wall will be the next big attention grabber in the media. It’s making its share of news already.
CNN Money reported late last month that bids are rolling in for the wall’s design and construction, though Mexico’s largest cement company has made it clear it won’t have anything to do with it.
Plus, environmental concerns—including the migration of wildlife in places like Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas, bordering the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila—are also getting some fresh attention.
And then there’s the physical placement along the Rio Grande: Will it be built along the U.S. side, ceding the river to Mexico: Or will it go up along the Mexican side? I can’t imagine that being approved by Mexico, just as I can’t picture it being built down the middle of the river.
More likely, border fencing and other barriers will be used at various points along the border, just as they are used now, and then Trump will simply call it “beautiful, magnificent wall,” or some other adjective-laden hyperbole, and declare it a great and wonderful victory.
New Mexico is highly vested in this issue. Santa Teresa in Doña Ana County is one of the fastest growing border regions in the nation, with the largest industrial association in New Mexico. When it comes to the state’s exports, Santa Teresa’s economic impact is rivaling Albuquerque’s these days.
And of course the cultural interaction between Mexico and New Mexico is tremendous. We’re not a constitutionally sanctioned bilingual state for nothing, you know.
Mostly, New Mexico’s 180-mile stretch of border with Mexico is suitable for cattle ranching but little else. That’s why it’s important to get the perspective of the landowners and ranchers who work these lands, and in its April 2 edition, the Albuquerque Journal did just that. In a story by Lauren Villagran, a Bootheel rancher named William Hurt was featured in a story about the border wall and its impact on ranchers in the area.
Hurt is one of the largest landowners in the area; he’s a fourth-generation rancher with family on both sides of the border. He’s also a registered Democrat who voted for Trump, and he has some strong opinions about the wall.
“I think a wall could work in some places, but not here. I’ve seen how the government does things, and they really don’t know what they’re doing down here.”
Hurt and others have been talking about other, more practical ways to secure the border. More technology, including strategically placed motion detectors, and more border patrol agents would cost less and quite possibly be more effective, but they never fit into Trump’s “build a great wall” campaign mantra.
Such rhetoric is just that—rhetoric. The reality lies in its execution, and to deliver on his promise, Trump will have to get funding from a reluctant Congress and/or an unwilling Mexico. As it stands now, he’s bordering on failure, something along the lines of his health-care debacle.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org