In defense of El Paso: a response to the State of Union

TechNews Writer
Mon Feb 11, 2019

Photo courtesy of TIME Magazine

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of TechNews or Illinois Tech. 

On February 5, 2019, the United States of America was given by the chief executive of the government the annual State of the Union, which gave the nation a glimpse into the recent developments in the federal government as well a general idea as to the direction all three branches plan to follow in the coming year. While several sections were widely accepted and applauded by all in attendance, there was never a doubt in anyone's mind leading up to the speech that several controversial topics and plans would be present in the speech. To no one's surprise, this belief became a reality within the first 15 or so minutes of the address to Congress when topics such as abortion, tax cuts, deregulation, socialism, and non-renewable energy emerged. Of all of these subjects however, none were as stunning (or in my case, enraging) as the subject of border security.

It is no mystery what plans the current administration has for the southern border that the United States has with Mexico: a border wall. While there certainly is merit in protecting the southern border, evidence and statistical information regarding illegal crossings should be closely examined (as always should be the case). But this topic has come to the point where the idea and plan has become less of a practical solution than simply a political symbol of dominance by one party over the other. The idea is now common that the Republican Party backs the wall simply because the Democratic Party refuses to give it to them. If that were not the case, then why is it that the wall was never built when the Republicans controlled all of Congress for the past two years? And why is it that the Republicans who were once on the fence about the wall now support it when they are now the minority in the House of Representatives? If there's one thing that corrupts more than power, it is the loss of power itself.

With this change in position, the facts and talking points being made in defense of the barrier's construction have gone from misleading to downright false and contradictory. Of all the reasoning behind constructing the wall being made, none was more jaw-dropping or downright false and dishonest than the points made in the State of the Union regarding the city of El Paso, Texas. In the speech to Congress, El Paso was described as a horrific, crime-ridden cesspool which was nothing short of an embarrassment to the nation up until the construction of barrier along the border, which put an end to the seemingly endless violence and crime in the community. NOTHING could be further from the truth. 

El Paso has been regarded as one of the safest cities not just in Texas, but in the entire country, for decades if not an entire century prior to the construction of the border barriers. Some statistics even show crime having actually risen after its construction began in the mid 2000s. This is made all the more noticeable by the fact that immediately across the Rio Grande, which marks the border between the United Stated and Mexico in Texas, is El Paso's sister city of Ciudad Juarez, which has been ranked at times in the past decade as one of the most dangerous cities on Earth, with murder and kidnapping rates higher than anywhere in the Middle East, South America, or Africa. Yet despite this extreme violence on one side of the river, none of it ever appeared on the other side in El Paso, despite the lack of barriers and blockades between the two cities.

Now while some may argue that this is due to the fact that a river such as the Rio Grande is like a natural barrier between the two nations and therefore between the peace and violence, I will point out that the Rio Grande, due to dams constructed upriver for purposes of irrigation and water collection, is usually a dry riverbed most of the year. While the river bed can and does occasionally fill during monsoons, typically only a small flow of water is ever seen in the river, which is so small, one can walk over it without even getting so much as their socks wet. 

Another argument being made is that a barrier will stop asylum seekers from crossing the border at any point other than ports of entry. Once again this is not the case, especially in Texas. As it is stated in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and again in the Chamizal Treaty of 1964, the United States cannot build anything that may obstruct the natural flow of the Rio Grande, which means any barrier built must be set back a significant distance from the actual border. This means asylum seekers need only enter that small sliver of US territory between the river and the barrier to request protection, thereby making the wall completely pointless. 

One final argument to be made is the idea that most drugs and human trafficking being made between the United States and Mexico is made by illegal crossing over the southern border. While this is a significant problem, no one who lives on the border sees a barrier as a solution to it. This is because it is common knowledge by residents of the two cities that there are extensive tunnel systems running beneath the river which are used to transport people and drugs across the border. These tunnels have existed since the Mexican Revolution nearly a century ago, and some even have motorized tracks as well as air conditioning and electricity. These tunnels obviously would not even be phased by a physical barrier placed on the surface.

Many of the arguments discussed here quickly crumble once actual historical records and current data is introduced, yet despite these obvious faults in the discussion, it is still a discussion being made in serious settings. Reality is no longer an excuse for ideas to be rejected, and that should be truly concerning for anyone. What I fear in particular is not that someone says a city like El Paso is a horrible place. It is fact that many people will believe it without actually looking into it themselves. For someone in such a high position of power to degrade and belittle an entire city for their own political gain, only then to hold a rally in that very town they just insulted to the entire world: that is, without question, the definition of shameless.

And with that, I will end with this: On behalf of the roughly 2.7 million people who call Juarez and El Paso home, myself included, this middle finger most graciously goes out to you, Mr. President.




Appears in
2019 - Spring - Issue 3