Herika Martinez Prado –
Ten-year-old Victor shimmies up the hulking steel fence at the edge of his backyard, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and gazes out at the forbidden land on the other side: the United States.
If President Donald Trump gets his way, the towering brown barrier, which stands 5.5 metres tall, will be just the beginning of a wall that runs the length of the more than 3,000 kilometre border.
As Trump headed to the boundary on Thursday to continue pushing for the wall during a bitter political battle that has partially shut the US government, residents of Ciudad Juarez say they can already feel the project’s impact on their lives, even though it has barely begun.
For some, it means waking up two hours earlier to get to work or school across the border, where increased security under Trump has led to traffic jams and long lines at rush hour.
For others, it means preparing for the reality that Mexico’s border cities will have to host swelling numbers of backlogged migrants unable to reach the United States to request asylum.
For Victor, who lives in the poor neighbourhood of Anapra on the city’s outskirts, it means losing his once-unbroken view of the vast expanse of empty America stretching out from his backyard, but also gaining a makeshift jungle gym that doubles as a goal when he and his friends play football.
The spry boy and his friends hold races to see who can climb the fence’s long steel slats the fastest, and he has charmed the US Border Patrol agents who police the other side.
“The ‘migras’ are my friends. Sometimes they give me money. They give me a dollar,” he says.
But while the fence has become an ordinary part of Victor’s landscape, it can be scary sometimes, he says — such as last November, when the US held a drill to prepare for a possible border breach by one of the caravans of Central American migrants that have been trekking in massive waves towards the United States.
“I got scared when I heard the booms. But then they threw coloured smoke bombs, which was pretty cool,” he says.
Built two years ago, the Anapra fence is one of several reinforced border barriers that the Trump administration calls the first sections of the wall.
But they were built using $1.6 billion in federal funds that had already been allocated for border security.
Now Trump is waging a war with Congress to get $5.7 billion to launch the full wall he envisions, which he says is urgently needed to keep out violent criminals, terrorists, human traffickers and drugs.
The US has, meanwhile, tightened security at the border since October, when the largest migrant caravan left Honduras, swelling to as many as 7,000 members on its northward trek and leading Trump to deploy nearly 6,000 troops to the frontier.
That has complicated life in places like Ciudad Juarez, where a sea of people crosses the border every day to work or study in neighbouring El Paso, Texas.
“Since November I’ve been having to wake up as much as two hours earlier in the morning,” says Adriana Sanchez, who lives in Mexico and works in El
Paso as a teacher. She questions whether the wall will actually work the way Trump plans.
“That wall is psychological. It’s not going to stop migrants, and it’s not going to stop us border residents from crossing back and forth. But it’s there, anyway, blocking our view of the other side.”
Trump has been deeply unpopular in Mexico ever since he launched his presidential campaign in 2015 calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists and vowing to make the country pay for his promised border wall — something the Mexican government has steadfastly rejected.
Border residents have more concrete reasons to dislike him.
One is the growing realisation that the swelling numbers of Central American migrants that the Trump administration is fighting to keep out of the United States are likely to end up spending
extended stays on the Mexican side, where there is limited capacity to house and feed them.
That is the challenge facing people like Blanca Rivera, who runs the Casa del Migrante, or migrant house, a shelter for migrants fleeing violence and poverty.
“We know there’s a new caravan on its way from Central America right now,” she says. “Ciudad Juarez simply isn’t prepared for that volume of people. But we’ll try to do what we have to for them.”
She says residents on both sides of the border have stepped up private donations to the shelter in recent months, enabling it to accommodate the growing number of migrants.
The shelter housed and fed about 15,000 migrants last year, more than double the 7,200 it received in 2017.
Rivera remarks that despite Trump’s attacks, the migrant caravans have only grown. “It was never a very valid argument to say a wall would reduce this phenomenon,” she says. “We know that nothing is going to stop migrants from trying to reach the United States.” — AFP
Herika Martinez Prado –