It’s sad when you have to look to cities other than your own to find inspiration about life and death humanitarian issues that demand a principled and steadfast response from all people of conscience. Such an issue is President Trump’s proposed “wall” on the border between the United States and Mexico.
Maybe leaders in New Mexico don’t think the proposed wall means that much to our state, but Roger Schluntz FAIA, architect and retired Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of New Mexico, thinks it means to a lot to us as human beings and as New Mexicans. Schluntz and others in local chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) here, in Arizona, California, and Texas, are working to oppose the wall from both humanitarian and professional perspectives.
The Southern Arizona branch of the AIA passed a resolution in opposition to the wall in June. And the Mayor and City Council of Tucson officially opposed Trump’s wall earlier in June. The Tucson resolution is among the more inspiring official documents I’ve seen from a city since the apogee of urban activism in the Southwest in the 1970s.
The mayor and council of Tucson hold that “Tucson is a city of immigrants. Approximately 80,000 Tucson residents are foreign-born….(and) make up more than 15% of the City’s workforce and total economic output and serve as an economic and entrepreneurial engine for the City.”
The City of Tucson and its elected leaders “champion the core values of inclusiveness and tolerance and welcome everyone who seeks to realize their dreams and build their families in the City regardless of national origin or immigration status.” The city resolution asserts that the “U.S. Mexico border is now more secure than it has ever been, apprehensions in the border region are at historic lows, and border communities are among the safest in the entire United States.”
Tucson resolution says the “tens of billions of dollars that would be spent to construct a border wall should be invested instead in health care, education, housing, repairing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure….The existing border wall is frequently breached and circumvented, knocked down in floods, requires enormous maintenance costs resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars per year in further financial burden to U.S. taxpayers, and remains the most expensive and least effective means of securing the border according to many security experts.”
“The existing border wall and militarization have created a human rights crisis in the border region that has caused significant social, cultural, and economic harm to border communities and resulted in more than 6,000 migrant deaths in the borderlands.”
“More than three dozen laws were waived to facilitate construction of the existing border wall, which precluded review and analysis of impacts to environmental and archaeological resources on the border, including Native American sacred sites….”
Tucson’s mayor and council conclude that a “border wall is an offensive and damaging symbol of fear and division that will increase tensions with Mexico, one of the United States’ largest trading partners and neighbors with which communities such as Tucson in the border region are inextricably linked culturally, physically and economically.”
Not content with just words, the mayor and council of Tucson put some teeth in the resolution saying that they express their intent “to identify all companies involved with the designing, building, or financing of the border wall, and its intent to disinvest, as soon as possible, from those companies.”
The resolution in opposition to the Wall from the Southern Arizona AIA is similarly inspiring saying, among other things, that there is “little doubt that the environmental impact from the construction of the proposed Wall would result in irreparable ecological damage to vast tracks of natural vegetation, habitat, and ecosystems, including areas of our National Parks and Monuments as well as lands belonging to” Native Americans.
I wish all the AIA chapters in New Mexico would do something similar. It’s not possible to hope that Albuquerque’s mayor and council will join Tucson at the moment. The spirit of top-down Trumpism is too alive and active in the city with the mayor calling the shots, but perhaps after next year’s city elections.
The border between the United States and Mexico is the 10th longest in the world. It runs 1989 miles from San Diego-Tijuana, across the desert of Arizona and more than half of New Mexico, then follows the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico. The border has 48 formal border crossings and 330 ports of entry. And some 700 miles of it is already fenced with a variety of materials at various heights, or walled with concrete barriers, leaving 12,000 plus miles to go at approximately $3.9 million a mile. A massive, recently reinforced metal fence already exists at New Mexico’s Sunland Park in southern Dona Ana County. It’s a barrier between the United States and the Mexican state of Chihuahua and its major population center, Ciudad Juarez.
In many ways, of all the notions triggering deep outrage and hate that have come from the Trump Administration, the move to build a massive wall that would be, in Trump’s words, “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful” is right there at the top of the list. The idea of a substantial barrier between Mexico and the United States got its start in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 under President George W. Bush, much of the actual work being done by the Obama Administration. But the Trump version is talked about in the language of an iron curtain or a Berlin Wall which came down for good in 1992.
Why does this wall evoke such a sense of disgust? Is it that it will turn Fortress America into Prison America, a wall keeping people, ideas, and liberties in as well as others out. Is it that while we know, as Robert Frost wrote in “The Mending Wall,” that “something there is that doesn’t love a wall” we also worry that it’s true that “good fences make good neighbors”? Maybe they do, if you can see them at all. Anyone with a back yard knows that if you have a barrier between you and your neighbor the more open it is, the more friendly you both are with each other. The more dense and closed, the more distant and even estranged you can become.
Walls are being built all around the world at an ever-increasing rate. As symbols of fear and the causes of animosity, they are the new iconography of a world too troubled and jammed up and overstuffed and poor and deprived to survive, perhaps, as a place rich in decency and civility. More than half the walls in the world have been built since 2000. And more and more are being built, mostly as expressions of xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria and provincial tribalism from India and Bangladesh, China and Mongolia to Morocco and Algeria, Equador and Peru, the Balkans and hundreds more. The excluded hate the walls that keep them out. They can smell the fear in them and the hate, and will find ways around and over them, like anyone confined thinks up ways to get free.
Some walls and fences are a necessity if you’re in any kind of war, or are the potential victim of people who want to take what you have and kill you. These are walls of defense, ugly and fearsome but some times necessary if rarely effective.
But barriers of animosity, barriers of bigotry, barriers of aversion are designed hatefully, are morally and physically ugly, damaging all the life around them. They are symbols not only of fear, but of power without limits, the power of force, of the willingness to do anything to express your negative will, of crushing conformity, sneering self-satisfaction, and of the always gruesome power of loathing and coercion. All such walls should never be built, and should be turned into rubble if they have been.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it
(Images from Wonderlane.)