Thirty years ago, The Doc and I purchased thirty acres of high desert scrubland in a fashionable new neighborhood. At the time, we looked forward to building a new house on a lot with enough room for the boys, What’s-His-Name and the The-Other-One, to run wild.
At the time, we ignored the fact that it would take twenty minutes for The Doc to get to the hospital, that not a single tree did or could grow at that waterless altitude, or that for most of the year, a chilly, piercing wind blew constantly from the West.
While it won’t surprise you that most of the lots were sold during the summer, you might be surprised to learn that now, the barren neighborhood contains a hundred isolated homes, each trying so hard to look like Fort Zinderneuf that any one of them would be a suitable location for filming The Last, Last, This Time We Mean It, Remake of Beau Geste.
For years, I made regular trips to our lot, hauling water for the trees we planted (they died) or to occasionally hunt a few rabbits (so did they). On one of these trips, I met our prospective neighbors, a young couple from Philadelphia, who had just bought the adjoining thirty acres. We met along our prospective shared fence line and discussed our future plans for our homes.
They were….Different. Born and raised in Philadelphia, our neighbors-to-be were recent arrivals and were in the process of renting greenhouses for their new business—growing poinsettias to sell at Christmas. That turned out to be the most practical of their future plans.
First, ignoring the fact that we all had all purchased oversized desert lots for the isolation, they informed me that they were going to build their new house just twenty feet north of our shared property line, “So the sunsets would last longer”.
Second, the wife told me they were going to erect a fence around their property to keep the snakes out.
“A snake-proof fence?”, I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “A rock fence about six feet tall all around the property. I hate snakes.”
“Well, there are a couple of things wrong with your plans. It is almost a mile all the way around this lot, so that fence is going to cost you a lot more than the ground you’re enclosing. And even if the fence worked, you’ll be fencing in as many snakes as you fence out.”
“No, there are no snakes here,” she said. “We’ve walked all over this property and there are no snakes.”
“It’s summer and the middle of the day. Snakes can’t stand the heat. Come out tomorrow morning as the sun rises and walk this property. Trust me, there are snakes.”
Two weeks later, on a trip out to water the dying trees, I noticed a sign on my neighbor’s lot: the property was for sale. Evidently, they had taken my advice and discovered a few snakes. It was just as well, I heard a few years later that their poinsettia business failed because of cheaper Mexican imports.
I don’t know what happened to my former neighbors, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they are currently working as advisors to the Trump administration. That might explain why our president keeps trying to build a fence along the border. A fence that won’t work any better then the proposed enclosure my neighbors were proposing.
I’ve lived most of my life along the Mexican border, I've worked on both sides of it, and I will even admit to casually crossing it a few times myself. (By casually, I mean without government approval. "Accidents" happen.) A fence is not going to work if you are trying to stop immigration.
Yes, a lot of people cross the border illegally. They do so because it is slightly easier and cheaper than crossing it legally. But, only slightly. The majority of illegal immigrants currently inside the United States entered the country legally and simply stayed. The majority of those who entered legally did so with visas, the rest legally crossed the border as tourists to work, go to school, visit relatives or shop in American towns along the border and remained in the US, with some eventually finding ways to travel further into the interior.
A citizen in either country with a valid passport or an enhanced driver’s license can legally cross the border, without a visa, as long as they stay in the border zone. I live in that border zone in Southern New Mexico. While no one knows exactly how many immigrants live along the border waiting for an opportunity to move north and find work, they are not hard to find.
For the record, most imported drugs that cross our southern border come across inside legally imported commercial freight, so a wall would have little effect on smuggled drugs, either.
If the United States really wants to control immigration, it has to change the laws. Changing the visa requirements would be a start. If we helped build the economy of Mexico, it would negate the need for people to emigrate to find employment. We could expand the Green Card program. We could do lots of things, but we don’t need to try and build a snake-proof fence.
Before I get the hate mail, I am not comparing immigrants and snakes, I am comparing fences and walls and the environment of the Southwest, something people who live thousands of miles away should learn about before proposing massive building projects.
Oh, yes. My former would-be neighbor was wrong about something else: Sunsets are longer the farther away from the equator you move. Though the duration would have increased by only a fraction of a second, she should have planned to build her house on the opposite side of her lot. Or just stay in Philadelphia—it has longer sunsets than New Mexico.