Soapbox: The price to pay: No matter the cost, border wall is unethical

Jessica Ruf


Two-hundred gray bricks lay, row after row, with the words “Jane Doe” or “John Doe” inscribed on each one in a barren dirt lot at the end of Terrace Park cemetery in Holtville, Calif.

These are grave markers of unidentified men, women and children who perished while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Among the anonymous headstones, a brightly painted memorial cross reads “No Olvidados,” or, Not Forgotten.  However, as the Trump administration continues to move forward with a plan for a “big, beautiful wall”, the opposite is suggested—the suffering along the border seems tragically forgotten.

While the White House struggles to tackle its ridiculous $21.6 billion price tag, there is a dire cost which must be morally addressed—the human cost of a wall.

In the two decades following the construction of a 700-mile border fence in the mid-1990s as part the Clinton-era measure “Operation Gatekeeper,” nearly 7,000 people have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Because the government erected the wall along urban areas of the border, migrant crossings switched from major highways to rugged, unmarked desert trails across southern Arizona and New Mexico.

Prior to the wall, migrant deaths averaged a few dozen each year. Since 2000, death tolls annually rose by hundreds due to hypothermia, dehydration, heat exhaustion and other complications in the desert. And these totals do not account for undiscovered bodies.

As the new administration plans to expand the border wall, immigration experts and human rights activists worry death rates will climb even higher. In 2006, the federal Government Accountability Office found that border deaths doubled after increased border security in the mid-1990s.

American citizen or not, the suffering along the border must be addressed as a humanitarian crisis, not a political problem. The U.S. must be human before it is American.

The fact that migrants risk their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border reveals the extent of violence many are escaping. In recent years, refugees seeking asylum have been replacing economic migrants seeking work.

Gang violence and poverty in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have sent thousands of families fleeing their homes to trek northward, and in 2016 Central Americans apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border outnumbered apprehended Mexicans.

In his 2016 statement on Southwestern border security, Charles Johnson, former secretary of Homeland Security, wrote, “Border security alone cannot overcome the powerful push factors of poverty and violence that exist in Central America. Walls alone cannot prevent illegal migration.”

When home becomes violent, a wall will not stop desperate families. History shows that people find a way to cross even as border security tightens. And if the immense task of sealing the entire 2,000-mile border becomes a reality, migrants may attempt to dangerously cross through the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean.

Furthermore, tighter border security promotes illegal activity. As walls go up, undocumented immigrants turn to smugglers for help, making smuggling a lucrative business at the border.

Migrants will pay the smugglers, typically called “coyotes,” thousands of dollars for help crossing the desert. Coyotes help smuggle migrants by drilling holes into, digging under or propping ladders against the wall. They then lead the migrants through hundreds of miles of desert.  

For migrants, travelling with a coyote can be dangerous. Though some are reliable, many coyotes are manipulative, caring more about making money than helping migrants, and not preparing  migrants for the long, arduous walk, the incredibly hot days or the cold nights.

Often, coyotes lie about the length of the journey, leaving migrants unequipped and without enough water. Some resort to drinking water out of cattle ponds or their own urine. Those unable to keep up with the rest of the group are abandoned. Women in particular suffer violence and sexual assault at the hands of the coyotes.

When humans are suffering along the U.S.’s southern border, the expansion of a wall symbolizes deliberate neglect of one’s neighbor. American or not, human life is far too precious, and the human price of a wall is far more costly than the projected $21.6 billion figure.  

If the U.S. were to respond humanely to problems at the southern border, the $21.6 billion would be directed towards expanding opportunities for legal, safe citizenship rather than expanding an ineffective and, ultimately, deathly wall.

Jessica Ruf is a sophomore journalism and English major from Sioux Falls, S.D.

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