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Close the Border?

What follows is a guest posting from a friend, Keith Bowden, who teaches English at Laredo Community College, in Laredo, Texas.  Bowden not only lives on the border, he’s travelled the entire Rio Grande (by raft and canoe) between Mexico and Texas.  You can read about that journey in his book, The Tecate Journals (Mountaineers Press, 2007). 


Here Bowden reflects on the oft-heard promises to “seal the border.”

Every time I hear a candidate promise to “seal the border” I cringe. 

I used to live in Santiago, Chile during the Pinochet years, which included several states of siege during my tenure there. The police and military presences during these states of siege alarmed me at first, but I got used to them. In one way, I’m glad I did because four years later I moved to Laredo, Texas, on the U.S./Mexico border, where I feel as though I’ve been living in a police state ever since, not much unlike Pinochet’s Chile.

For those of you who don’t live on the border, consider that we have Customs, Immigration, Border Patrol, National Guard, city police, county sheriffs, DEA, school district police, and college & university police. Every time we leave Laredo, we must go through an Immigration checkpoint where our vehicles are subject to inspection and where we are frequently asked to prove our right to be in the U.S.

One would guess that these checkpoints and this tremendous presence of law enforcement in our city would be effective at reducing crime and illegal immigration, but despite the annual increase in Border Patrol agents and budgets of the multiple law enforcement agencies, I see no progress in their fight to “seal the border.” Now the federal government wants to erect a “wall” or “border fence.” Yikes!

Americans should consider two things about “sealing the border”: one, if you don’t want illegal drugs entering our country through our southern border, stop buying them; and, two, if you don’t want Mexicans or other Latin Americans entering our southern border for the purpose of working in the U.S., stop hiring them.

The current housing crisis in our country has done far more to stem the tide of illegal immigration than the Border Patrol, National Guard, and all components of Homeland Security ever has.  With the resulting slowdown in construction jobs, the numbers of Mexicans who have attempted to enter the U.S. illegally has fallen sharply.

A couple of years ago I was on the riverbank here in Laredo with another Anglo. We stood and watched as a coyote pushed two inner tubes, each loaded with a woman coming to the U.S. to work, across the Rio Grande. When he and his cargo reached the U.S. side of the river, the women fled on foot up the bank and into the streets of Laredo. I was surprised at how brazen the coyote was. After all, my friend and I could have been law enforcement officers.

But then he did something that I think speaks a lot about the effectiveness of the Border Patrol. Instead of retreating to the Mexican shore with his inner tubes, he got out of the water and came over to talk to us. He asked me in Spanish, “You’re Border Patrol, aren’t you?”

When I insisted I wasn’t, he posed the same question to my friend, who similarly answered no. The coyote wasn’t convinced. He seemed quite certain that we were there to count the number of people he crossed so that he would then have to pay the requisite bribe to a crooked Border Patrol agent or agents.

We never did convince him that we were just two writers looking for a story. Disappointed, he swam back to Mexico with his inner tubes in tow. He seemed frustrated that our presence on the riverbank had made him question the rules of a system that had been making both him and the Border Patrol a lot of money.


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