Interesting Facts About the Mexican American Border Fence

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A brief history of the border fence between Mexico and the United States. The article takes us from the early 1900's to today.

Today when people think about the border fence between Mexico and the United States of America images of smugglers, called coyotes, bringing drugs and illegal immigrants across the border is what comes to mind. The fact is the border fence had its humble beginnings and at one point in time it was primarily used, not to keep Mexican from entering into America, rather to prevent Americans from entering into Mexico!

The original fence was built by the federal Bureau of Animal Industry at the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The original purpose was not to keep illegal drugs from entering into this country. Back then the great menace of the day was ticks! Cattle ranchers complained that Mexican Cattle kept roaming onto their ranches and infesting American cattle with ticks. After years of such complaints the first border fence was built. It consisted of barb wire strung on wooden posts along stretches of land used by cattle for grazing.

Later when prohibition became the law on January 16, 1920, a small pueblo, called Tijuana, south of San Diego became known for offering thirsty Americans all the booze their little heart’s could desire. To meet the growing need, cantinas opened one after another along the main road, Via Revolution. They offered legal “speakeasies” where “dry” American could party and enjoy a cold beer or two. The success of the cantinas led to the gambling halls and the brothels on "La Coahuila" (also known casually as Zona Norte – north zone)

During the 1920s – 1930s prohibition turned Tijuana into an American attraction icon. Such notoriety did not go unnoticed by many politicians, women’s organizations, and churches that felt the need “to protect the morals of the public from their injurious acts.” After a great deal of public outcry from these interested organizations, the government decided to curtail Americans from crossing the border.

The first attempt was to have a 6 PM to 6 AM curfew along the Tijuana / San Diego Border. The idea was that all “sinful and immoral acts occurred during these hours.” However as the old saying goes “Where there is a will there is a way.”

With the gate closed, thirsty American engaged the help of “Mexican men so skilled at maneuvering in the dark that they were like Coyotes.” Holes along the fence cropped up and the coyotes helped the flow of Americans entering and exiting Mexico illegally!

Much like today, the government tried in vain to patch the holes and enforce the border to no success. As soon as one hole was fixed another opened. After a decade of failure, on July 9, 1932, Washington ordered the gate to remain open until midnight and thirsty Americans finally got their wish. [1]

Today’s problems for the demand of illegal drugs entering into the United States can be traced to the war in Viet Nam. American soldiers exposed to drug usage in Asia came back home with a desire to enjoy those same recreational drugs they enjoyed during the war. As a result, the drug trade began in earnest.

Today the 1,951 mile border between Mexico and the United States has several fences designed to prevent illegal drugs and immigration from entering into the United State. In fact, the border fence is not one continuous structure, but rather a combination of short physical walls that stop and start. The un-walled portions are secured by a system of sensors and cameras monitored by Border Patrol Agents.[2][9] The barrier crosses cities like San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas, as well as uninhabited sections of the border. It is the uninhabited sections that now represent the greatest concentration of illegal crossings and drug trafficking.

To avoid detection, today’s coyotes transport people and drugs along the Sonoran Desert and the Baboquivari Mountain in Arizona [3][9] where illegal immigrants must cross upwards to 50 miles of inhospitable terrain to reach the first road. [3][4][9] The human toll to enter this country has been extremely high. According to the Human Right National Commission of Mexico around 5,000 people have died in the last thirteen years. [5][9]

After decades of failed attempts at keeping illegal drugs and immigrants from entering into the United States, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was signed into law on October 26. This law authorizes the construction of 700 miles of physical fence/barriers along the border. [6][9]

What is interesting to note is "the construction of the border fence will not be subject to any laws. This is because in 2005 the Real ID Act, attached as a rider to a supplemental appropriations bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and decreed, Not withstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff used his new power to ‘waive in their entirety:

The Endangered Species Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The National Environmental Policy Act

The Coastal Zone Management Act

The Clean Water Act

The Clean Air Act

The National Historic Preservation Act [7][8]

The Real ID Act further stipulates that his decisions are not subject to judicial review, and in December 2005 a federal judge dismissed legal challenges by the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and others to Chertoff’s decision.

In April 2008, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to speed construction of the barrier. Secretary Chertoff exercised his waiver authority on April 1, 2008.

In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the waiver authority in a case filed by the Sierra Club. (Associated Press) In September, 2008 a federal district court judge in El Paso dismissed a similar lawsuit brought by El Paso County, Texas.[8][9]”

After 100’s of completed miles of fencing, President Barack Obama ordered a halt to the expansion of the virtual fence and said the designated money would be used to upgrade current border technology. [9]

Today, the fence stands protected by thousands of federal border patrol agents, various local police agencies, and an ever growing number of private individuals that take it upon themselves to monitor the border. Not much has changed from the era of the 1920’s prohibition. Rather than Americans, with the help of Mexican coyotes, crossing the border to purchase illegal alcohol, we have a new generation of coyotes bringing the illicit bounty right to our doorstep! At least, one can say unequivocally that the border fence has had one success: Thanks to all those billions of dollars spent and millions of patrolling hours devoted to the task – there has not been a single report of American cattle being threatened by tick infested Mexican cattle in over 50 years!

Border wall between the U.S. and Mexico at the Pacific Ocean / Pixabay

2018 Border Wall Update

A lot has happened and not much has happened in the last eight years. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican candidate, Donald Trump ran on the promise that he would build the wall, and make Mexico pay for it.

So far, not much progress has been made on the wall and Mexico does not look like they will ever pay for it.  As part of the 2019 fiscal spending package (January 2018), President Trump wanted between $18 and $20 billion for border security and the completion of the wall, and he also said that the money would come out of the Pentagon budget.

At first, President Trump wanted a wall stretching more than 2,200 miles, but this was later reduced to a wall of 722 miles. This would be a mix of wall and fencing, mostly updating the wall and fence that has been in place for years. In addition border security would be enforced using drones and more border patrols. As early 2018, the president ordered states to send their National Guard troops to the border to assist border patrols.

In March of 2018, President Trump said that a new wall was beginning near San Diego, California. As of early 2018, Congress has only approved $1.8 billion for construction of the border wall.

Hope you enjoyed the article. Take care.

[1] "American Stranded at the Border when the fence gets Fixed," Written by Richard Crawford, Special to the Union-Tribune,

Saturday, June 5, 2010 @ 12:04 AM

[2] "The Border Fence". NOW on PBS. http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/432/.

[3] "Border Desert Proves Deadly For Mexicans"

[4] "One Nation, Under Fire High Country News," February 19, 2007.

[5] "El Universal de Mexico" (Spanish) Retrieved on 09/11/2007.

[6]."ABC News: Bush Signs U.S.-Mexico Border Fence Bill". http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=2607329&page=1. Retrieved 2006-10-26.

[7] Billing Code -4410-10 DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

[8] "Border Wall Battle: Bad News vs. Good News"

[9] wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexico_United_States_barrier

[10] Picture for article used from [9]

5 comments

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