What would that mean for nearly 2,000 miles of diverse terrain, communities and wildlife? We talked to law enforcement, academics, policy experts and activists. We researched border security. Then we created a virtual tour of the border to find out.
Before the 1990s, the border was permeable, even in large cities. Workers would cross seasonally, some slipping into the U.S. unnoticed, others staging rushes.
Economic advancement was limited below the border, in part because the North American Free Trade Agreement brought heavily subsidized U.S. corn into Mexico and widespread privatization of Mexican farmland, said Michelle Téllez, a professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at Northern Arizona University.
But then came Operation Gatekeeper and Hold the Line, which erected walls made of old Vietnam War landing mats and beefed-up security in Tijuana and El Paso. Within months, illegal crossings in El Paso went from up to 10,000 a day to 500, according to the Associated Press.
Much has changed since. The unauthorized immigrant population has leveled for the past five years, following a sharp increase for two decades, according to the Pew Research Organization. Border Patrol apprehensions have declined to historic lows. But National Border Patrol Council spokesperson Shawn Moran said “it’s not true at all” that illegal immigration is down. The number of people that elude the patrol has remained the same and increased in some areas, he said.
The government has waived 36 laws, sued homeowners, severed twin communities and spent billions of dollars to build the fencing that exists today. Only about 350 miles of that is pedestrian fencing that could be described as a wall. Another 300 miles of border is covered by vehicle barriers, which block cars but not necessarily people on foot.