TUCSON, Arizona – The earliest memories of my childhood are from the wind running through the deserts of western Texas, the gentle hills and rocky peaks of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where my mother worked as a forest agent for the National Park Service. Their functions were not only limited to protecting and preserving beautiful natural places, but they also consisted of translating their landscapes to visitors through stories. She told me these stories all the time in the house, on excursions, in the car; I even intertwined them in the lyrics of the songs I sang at bedtime.
The Guadalupe Mountains, located an hour and a half from the Rio Grande, could be considered part of an extensive network of border parks and nature reserves. Because of their proximity to our eternally militarized border, these areas are now one of the most threatened natural environments in the country. The most imminent danger comes, of course, from the fixation of the president of the United States, Donald Trump, with increasing the impressive amount of barriers that already extend along a third of our 3169 kilometers of border with Mexico.
Although for some it might be comforting to think that the Trump administration has been completely unable to fulfill its most symbolic campaign promises, many of them full of hate, the reality is more alarming: as you read this, huge concrete walls are being erected and steel that crosses national monuments, wildlife refuges and natural spaces. In total, more than 209 kilometers of federally protected land are in danger.RELATED
Those who seek to minimize new constructions insist that the new walls are only replacing others that were already there, usually barriers for vehicles 1.2 meters high that almost do not alter the movement of wildlife or the natural rhythms of the environment. The walls of more than 9 meters that are taking their place are easily scalable for humans but completely impenetrable for most wild animals. The new constructions also increase the risk of flooding and to carry them out it is necessary to drain precious desert groundwater, which threatens to permanently modify entire ecosystems.
On December 7, a coalition of environmental protection groups held an activist day from Tucson to Laredo, Texas, in an effort to raise public awareness and correct the media narrative that dismisses the clear and concrete danger posed by the wall. . The organizations demanded that the US Congress cancel the financing of the border wall – which Trump has successfully diverted from the Department of Defense after declaring a "national emergency" – before the deadline for congressional assignments, on December 20.
Last month, on the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some 300 people gathered at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona to demonstrate against the construction of new walls. Many of them showed signs or wore costumes to call attention to some of the local species that are on the verge of extinction, such as the Sonoran swamp turtle, the Cyprinodon eremus fish and the Sonoran berrendo. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, more than 93 protected species face an imminent risk from the extension of the wall.
I had the opportunity to hear an indigenous Tohono o’odham activist announce through a megaphone that more than forty federal and state laws had been suspended to begin the construction of the gigantic wall behind it.
A decade ago, I was watching this area as a Border Patrol agent. Just graduated from the university in 2008, I had entered the agency convinced that a job like this would give me the opportunity to understand the tightening of the border from the inside. In addition, I naively imagined that I could somehow become a force of compassion and nobility within an institution known for its cruelty.
Shortly after arriving at my station, my fellow apprentices and I had to chase a group of marijuana smugglers through protected areas of natural monuments. After several kilometers, we found a lot of backpacks next to several bales of abandoned marijuana. Encouraged by our supervisor, my co-workers looted belongings abandoned by men most likely tempted to smuggle for the promise of reduced rates for their own entry into the United States. Agents scattered their clothes on top of trees and cacti, trampled their food and pocketed their cigarettes. One of my classmates even peed his backpacks, laughing softly like a malicious child.
I quickly realized that, although we were within the bounds of a national monument and the rule prohibited it strongly, these wastes would be abandoned in the desert without hesitation and no effort would be made to prevent the men who had fled from ending up lost. or disoriented in the vast surrounding desert. The existing walls had already pushed these men to cross this remote area, and now they, like their belongings, would be left in the open, discarded in the desert as garbage.
Today, that same contempt for the environment, for the people who cross it and for all those who consider it their home is becoming a mandate throughout our entire border. At the site of the protest last month at Organ Pipe, an Akimel O'odham man named Philip Robert pointed to the wide strip of deforested desert to make way for the construction of the wall. “They suspended all those laws to kill our saguaros,” he shouted with the megaphone, referring to the large and cylindrical cacti that are the hallmark of the Sonoran desert.
"It's a shame," he shouted, and the protesters joined him, "they should be ashamed." Robert was shaking and cursing, and was momentarily overcome by outrage before handing the megaphone to a companion. Several minutes later, he asked to speak to the public again. "I just want to apologize for the bad words," he said. "I came to raise a prayer." Then he sang a song in his native language that they had approached, a story about the earth and the forces that shaped it.
If national parks are "the best idea in the United States," then building walls that run through them surely counts as one of our worst occurrences. There is no way to protect the nature of the border if a wall is built that crosses it. If the constructions cannot be prevented from continuing, they should not happen silently or hiddenly thanks to media narratives created in distant centers of power. The "frontiers" will continue shouting our stories, singing our songs and shaking with just indignation until the walls stop erecting and, finally, are collapsed.
Francisco Cantú, ex-agent of the Border Patrol, is the author of The line becomes a river. A chronicle of the border.