Texans hate the wall, Arizonian residents -- many of whom are themselves new to the region -- tend to favor it:
The fence is undoubtedly changing patterns of illegal immigration. But is it staunching the flow? The Border Patrol points to the fact that they are catching fewer people. Yet this is a very imperfect measure, rather like estimating the number of fish in the sea from those hauled up in fishermen’s nets. The figures do not count those who make it, and they double-count people who keep trying. Remittances to Mexico (see chart above) provide a better picture. These were rising until recently, largely because immigrants began to send more money through formal channels. Now they are falling, but not by much.
For more than ten years, Wayne Cornelius of the University of California at San Diego has been surveying people in high-emigration areas of Mexico. He finds that fewer than half of all would-be illegal immigrants are apprehended on any given trip, and virtually all get through eventually. Mexicans keep trying even though they know the border has become more dangerous. In an unpublished study, Mr Cornelius reports that more than 30% of Oaxacans who plan to steal across the border know somebody who has died trying.
There is a more obvious reason for the recent slowdown in illegal immigration. Construction and landscaping jobs, a common source of employment for Latino immigrants both legal and illegal, have disappeared as the housing market has collapsed. In the past year the Hispanic unemployment rate has risen from 5.4% to 8.0%. Among Hispanics aged 16 to 19 the rate is 22.8%. This deters would-be workers from crossing the border and curtails the ability of people already in America to pay for their relatives to make the trip.
Even if tougher border enforcement has slowed the movement of people, this is not quite the good news it seems. Until recently Mexicans crossed back and forth across the border as work and family demanded. Many years ago Mr Walker’s ranch employed a couple of “wetbacks” (the term was not so derogatory as it is today) who would work half a year each, returning to their families in the off-season.
These days, says Ms Rubio-Goldsmith, migration is not circular but linear. If people come they tend to stay, because the cost and difficulty of crossing the border have increased so steeply. They are more likely to bring their families: in the Sonoran desert, says Mr Johnston, about a quarter of the immigrants are women and children. As immigrants put down deep roots in America, villages in Oaxaca that once lacked young men are becoming utterly depopulated. The border fence may be deterring illegal immigration, but it is not reducing the number of illegal immigrants. It is also annoying people.Paradoxically, the wall is encouraging Mexicans to settle down in the US, as opposed to making trips back and forth on a casual basis.
Many of the people who favor the wall are relatively new to the region. It is probably the case that these US migrants to Arizona have fewer historic family connections to the Southwest of the United States than the Mexicans they want to keep out.
Texans’ sanguine attitude is also a matter of demography. When the last census was taken, in 2000, Arizona, California and Texas were all between one-quarter and one-third Hispanic. But their border regions look utterly different. Arizona, which is currently America’s fastest-growing state, has experienced a wave of white immigrants—the Midwestern “snowbirds”—who have little experience of Latino culture. Its four border counties were 34% Hispanic in 2000. California’s two border counties, which are thick with retirees and military families, were just 28% Hispanic. Texas’s border counties, by contrast, were 85% Hispanic.
Margaret Dorsey, an anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania who studies Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley, says many local families can trace their roots to the mid-18th-century Spanish land-grant programme. Border Texans often speak fluent Spanish and have family and friends on the other side of the river. Students commute from Mexico to the university in El Paso, crossing in a special line that allows them to make it to class on time. They even pay instate tuition rates.
Arizonians aren't completely happy either, however, because the wall is killing retail sales along the border:
Roughly three-quarters of people who cross legally from Mexico into Arizona do so in order to shop. As a result, streets close to the fence have become emporiums for things that are more expensive or harder to come by on the other side. That means handbags and children’s clothes on the American side, pharmaceuticals and beer on the Mexican side. . . . American towns depend a lot more on Mexican shoppers than the other way around.
Jaime Fontes, the city manager of Nogales, Arizona, reckons Mexican visitors account for roughly 65% of all retail sales in his city. As border officers become more finicky about documents and more zealous in searching vehicles, he worries trade will suffer. Local businessmen say it already has. Chang Lee, who runs a clothes shop just north of the border, explains in fluent Spanglish that Mexicans are spending “too mucho time” waiting to cross, which leaves too little time for shopping. They come running into his shop, clutching fistfuls of bills and begging him to sell them something before they have to return. He estimates that trade has fallen 20-30% in the past year.
In Douglas, the number of vehicle passengers crossing during the first half of this year averaged 321,000 a month—down from 708,000 a month in the first half of 2002. There are more pedestrians, but pedestrians do not buy as much. Manufacturing firms that have set up maquilas in Mexico are suffering too. Two years ago a group of economists calculated that delays at the Tijuana border were costing San Diego County and Baja California more than $4 billion each year.
The wall going up today won't stop the flow of Mexicans across the border, though it might encourage them to stay for good. It seems that if the US wants to stop Mexican immigrants from arriving, it needs to follow the example of East Germany more closely:
A truly impregnable border, of the kind that Mr McCain is demanding, would involve two layers of fencing 2,000 miles long, with a large no-man’s land in the middle and plenty of watchtowers. The fence would have to look as it does near San Diego, or as it used to in Berlin. This would involve virtually rasing several towns.I suppose the loopiest fact about the wall has got to be this:
. . . building the fence, which has to be done on the American side, means effectively ceding land and the river itself to Mexico. Property-owners hate that idea, and a powerful lobby group against the fence has sprung up in Texas.What's this? In the driest region of the United States, the government is effectively handing the biggest river over to Mexico? How crazy does it get? What do you suppose Americans ought to call their stupid new wall? I suppose the name ought to reflect the cynicism of the times, and the idiocy of everything that has come to be associated with America's Homeland Security regime. How about "The George W. Bush Freedom Fence"?
Various photos show the Berlin Wall.