Brief History: A Timeline of the U.S. Border Wall

Americas "Wall"

“In the American imagination the border between Mexico and the United States is a symbolic boundary between the United States and a threatening world. It is not just a border but THE border.”

To connect the dots in the history of the border wall, real and imagined, here is a historical timeline:

1845 to 1900 – Texas is annexed. Mexicans begin migrating south into what suddenly became “Mexico.”

1917 – U.S. farmers and manufacturers need labor immigration of Mexicans into the U.S. is encouraged. A cotton company executive writes President Woodrow Wilson, “Personally, I believe that the Mexican laborers are the solution to our common labor problem in this country. Many of their people are here, this was once part of their country, and they can and they will do the work.”

1924 – Mexico is exempted from the Immigration Act that restricts newcomers from other countries.

1929 – After the Great Depression, thousands of Mexicans are unofficially “repatriated” by city, state and federal governments of the U.S. and sent back to Mexico.

1965 – In a major civil rights reform, U.S. President Johnson changes the preference of immigration law from country of origin – therefore European ethnicity – to family ties inside the United States, acknowledging and aiding large numbers of Mexicans with family members who are already residents and acknowledging the close relationship of the two countries.

1969 – President Nixon launches Operation Intercept and mandates surprise individual inspections of any and all border crossings, plane, car, or foot. Thousands of agents are dispatched to the Mexican border, virtually shutting down illegal immigration by car for the first time. Antonio Carillo Flores, the Foreign Affairs secretary of the Mexican government, complains bitterly.

1980′s – A brief lull in enforcement. Pedestrians and cars are stopped intermittently. Worldstir editor smuggles a puppy across the border under a blanket in her car. Millions of Americans head south to vacation at Mexican beaches with only a driver’s licence.

1993 – President Bill Clinton mandates construction on a 13-mile “Border Wall” along a line in the sand between San Diego and Tijuana. It is projected to cost $39 million and reduce border apprehensions from 100,000 per day to 5,000 per day for those 13 miles. Emigrants find other paths.

1994 – The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passes. Large agricultural areas are devastated by low-cost competition with U.S. industrial agriculture. A new surge of immigration heads northward into the United States, swamping the border patrols.

1996 – President Clinton signs the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act, increasing fines for illegal entry and approving funding for more patrols and fence construction. Emigrants shift away from the traditional crossings into privately held land, causing landowners to fence their property.

2000 – Tohono O’odham, which means “desert people,” Indians whose lands are split in half between the United States and Mexico, are baffled by the idea that they now need documents to move about their traditional lands. A 34-year old Tohono, Faustino Romero Zepeda, born in Mexico, is arrested and “deported” for doing business on tribal land in the U.S. He is barred from entering the country for five years.

2001 – Planes crash into the Twin Towers on 9/11. Border security becomes a national security issue. President George W. Bush approves increasing border patrols from 10,000 to 20,000 in 2008. Everyone now shows international travel documents when crossing by car or plane.

2004 – The U.S. Border Patrol announces that 325 people died crossing the border from Mexicio in one year. No More Deaths is founded by religious leaders, including Catholic bishop Gerald Kicanas, Presbyterian minister John Fife, and leaders of the local Jewish community in Arizona, to aid migrants.

2005 – More than one million people are arrested crossing into the United States from Mexico. More than than 500 die crossing.

2006 – President Bush signs the Secure Fences act, promising 700 miles of fencing on the border, plus a virtual wall across the entire 2,000-mile border.

2007 – The Department of Homeland Security argues that it is impossible to construct the same type of fencing – i.e. a wall – across the border’s diverse terrain, and asks for and gets an amendment allowing a variety of barriers including “fencing, physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras,” with another $12 billion in funding.

2008 – The U. S. announces that a section of the barrier had been mistakenly built from 1 to 6 feet (2 meters) inside Mexican territory and must be moved. Congress approves the Department of Homeland Security’s right to circumvent more than 30 environmental laws in a push to get fencing constructed by year’s end.

2009 – The Great Recession kicks off the first outflow of Mexicans from the United States since the annexation of Texas, creating a net loss of illegals living in the U.S. The U.S. peak of 12 million illegal residents begins to decline at the rate of about 300,000 per year.

2010 – The New York Times writes that over the previous four years, 51 unauthorized tunnels running under the border walls had been found in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora. They are mainly for drug trafficking, not emigration.

2011 – The Department of Homeland Security completes 649 miles of barriers, including 350 miles of pedestrian fencing, at an estimated $6.5 million per mile, and 299 miles of vehicle barriers that cost approximately $1.7 million per mile. But $1 billion spent on a pilot program for “virtual surveillance” in Arizona yields only 53 miles of coverage. With the backing of the DHS, the Obama administration cuts funding for the rest of the hyper-expensive “virtual wall.”

2012 – The Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, warns that the number of border crossing fatalities have doubled since the year before. The United States Border Patrol finds the remains of 463 people.

2013 – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) tells Forbes that there are plenty of ways to enter the U.S. illegally that don’t involve walking across the border, says “a fence is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.”

2014 – Central and South America send massive numbers of refugees into Mexico heading north for the U.S. The number of non-Mexicans crossing the border illegally exceeds the number of Mexicans for the first time. A surge of unaccompanied children cross the U.S. border.

2015 – Patrols report that 3,000 human remains have been found on the Arizona border since the wall’s construction began. Human rights groups double that number, including the unfound and those on the Mexican side. “No More Deaths” leaves thousands of jugs of water in the desert for potential emigrants. Mexicans nail coffins with the Spanish word for “death” painted on them along the border wall.

2016 – Pew Research reports that more people from the U.S. are going to Mexico than the other way around. Scott Walker, Wisconsin Governor, says that there are “legitimate concerns” about security along the country’s 5,525-mile northern border, and that he would support building a wall between the U.S. and Canada.

2017 – President Donald Trump renews his vow to build “a great, great wall” across the rest of the 2,000-mile border. Executive orders call for an increase of 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, officers above the 21,000 already employed. In the United States, mothers and father are separated from children and deported.

A fence is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.

US Rep. Henry Cuellar - D-Texas 
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