A HISTORY OF THE WALL
The first wall between Mexico and United States was not built to keep out people. It was built to keep out cattle.
The first federally funded border fence between Mexico and United States went up in 1911. It was mean to keep out the ticks that came with the cattle from Mexico.
Mexican cattle wandered over the southern border with “Texas fever” caused by ticks. This destroyed many cattle on both sides of the border. This increased the price of beef.
A barbed-wire fence was put up but did not help very much. There have been repeated outbreaks of Texas fever, some as recently as 2017. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has “tick riders” on horseback stopping cattle from crossing the border to this day.
Throughout most of the 19th century, the U.S. had open borders. There was no problem with illegal immigration. You didn’t need a passport or a visa to cross the border.
That changed during World War II when U.S. farms were starved for laborers. Mexican laborers came to work on the U.S. farms. In the next 22 years, 5 million Mexicans came.
When the Mexican economy slumped in the 1970’s and 80’s, millions headed north without papers. The War on Drugs, started by President Nixon in 197l, focused on the border.
The first idea of an actual fence came in 1979 under President Carter. But that idea was dropped when the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan said that you don’t need a 9-foot fence between two friendly nations.
President Reagan did not build a physical wall, but he supported the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which increased the Border Patrol’s Staff by 50 percent—up to 5000 people.
The agents had night-vision goggles, new helicopters and high-tech surveillance systems. The law gave amnesty and legal status to some 2.7 million undocumented immigrants.
The first major physical fences were built in the 1990’s under President G.H.W. Bush and President Clinton. They included a 14-mile-long fence between San Diego and Tijuana.
The fence-building continued after 9/11 attacks. President G.W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act in 2006. This act added 548 miles of fencing at a cost of $2.3 billion.
President Obama added another 137 miles of fencing. These fences in strategic areas made it more difficult to cross the border. Mexican illegal crossings have declined as their country’s economy has improved.
However, migration from gang violence in Central America has tripled since 2017. These people are desperate and fences do not keep them out. Most of the new migrants are applying for asylum, rather than sneaking across the border.
U.S.- Mexican border is 1954 miles. Today, just over 700 miles has a fence.
What about the remaining 1254 miles? Border experts doubt that an additional wall by President Trump will solve the problem of illegal immigration.
A majority of undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. legally and overstay their visa. There were an estimated 700,000 overstays in 2017.
Border fences will not keep out illegal drugs either. “Most narcotics are smuggled through legal checkpoints.” (The Week, February 8, 2019, page 11)
The greatest strength of the wall is its symbolic power. To many Americans, the wall is a “symbolic boundary between the U.S. and a threatening world.” (from The Week, February 8, 2019, page 11)