THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US
An observation on what changed socially after the situation on the Mexican border and how we continue to build walls to separate us 60 years after WWII
Opinion piece and artwork: Emily Georgieva
Photography: Steal my Art
14 April 2019
Throughout 2018 the issues at the Mexican American border became a story revolving around separation and segregation. This is a story about a wall in a world of many others. This is the Mexican border and the role it plays in the distance between us.
It may seem surprising that 7 was the total number of border walls in the world by the end of World War II. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there were 15 walls. Thirty years later, we live in a world where over 77 border walls separate countries and their people. What is perhaps more pressing, is that the numbers only continue to grow.
History seems to reveal that throughout time, people have always found ways to divide from one another. We view people’s ethnicity, race, beliefs, nationality, social standing and other factors as labels. Segregation seems to be at the very core of this need to distinguish people as ‘others’, whom we should separate ourselves from. Examples of this are the recent events at the Mexican border.
Much was said and written about the issues occurring at the border and the people, trying to cross it. The stories of the Mexican refugees kept the media busy for a while. The president of the United States called them a ‘threat’, while the United Nations intertwined with his drastic ‘zero tolerance’ policy. The events from 13th October 2018 put the very idea of borders and fences into wider perspective. From a social aspect it could be said that instead of moving forward, humanity is perhaps taking a step back.
The media portrayed the Mexican citizens, but their voices were hardly heard. This was until a journalists stepped up to report from within the refugees’ camps, which brought some changes to the political air. President Trump’s decision to separate children from their families, upon crossing the border with US were criticised by global organizations. While some spoke of the dehumanisation of the Mexicans, the tension around the events escalated with the acceptance of Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy.
Those, who crossed the border without a visa or other documents, were treated as criminals. Children were detained, regardless of being accompanied by adults. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that total of 2342 children had been taken away from their families at the border between May and June 2018. While the United Nations called for an immediate end of the tactic, Trump’s administration declared that whoever was to cross the border illegally, would be deported.
The concept of the ‘others’ emerged. Built on the very foundation of foreign settlers, America was now declaring immigrants as a threat. It has been estimated that illegal immigration is the highest-ranked national problem in the States. However, reports show that in 2017 illegal entry from Mexico to the US was lower compared to past 56 years. Up until recently the conversations of building a wall between Mexican and American soil had just started. Today the issues at the border are a bitter reality with thousands of people left stranded at refugees’ camps, hoping to escape the terror and violence; striving to find better life opportunities abroad.
In February, over 76 000 people were seeking asylum at the US southern border. This is considered to be the highest number in a decade. Political instability, corruption, climate change, poor living conditions and violence are among the factors causing people to fear and push them to migrate. In late March 2019, it has been announced by the US government that aids will be cut El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, on the basis that people migrate from those territories to the borders of US.
In late March and early April hundreds of Central American migrants have been stopped in El Paso, a city that is a home to one million people. The US border patrol has to stop migrants under the Paso del Norte bridge connecting El Paso with Ciudad Juarez in Mexico because they were escaping from their homeland in search for more opportunities and a fresh start in the US territory. The conditions they had to face were unacceptable and dehumanising to say the least.
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a complaint about children having to sleep outside on the bare ground. The conditions people face by the bridge in El Paso have been described as some of the worst humanity have seen in recent history. The harsh weather conditions, short food supply and sleeping conditions have been criticised by many, including Dee Margo, El Paso’s Republican mayor. He talked to the media about his concerns of Donald Trump’s intention to close the border permanently and expressed his concern about how this will affect the economy of Central America. A lot of people travel for work to the territories of different countries and this will undoubtedly shake their economic stability. Numbers prove that over 23 000 people travel for work from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso and 50 000 residents of El Paso go to Mexico for the same reasons. Margo also stated that not the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) federal agents and the border control, but the Congress and Trump’s decisions are to be hold responsible for how men, women and children are ‘inhumanly’ treated by the El Paso bridge.
El Paso’s native and a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Beto O’Rourke criticized Trump’s decisions to close the border and treat immigrants so poorly. The president of the United States visited El Paso in February and announced the city as having one of the highest rates of crime for any big city in the US, which was a statement proven to be untrue. He called out the Congress demanding them to fund the building of the wall. He is serious about his decision and intends to put his words into actions sooner rather than later.
In the 21st century it has become simple to remain connected and reach one another, regardless of the distance there may be in between. Yet, it is equally as easy to feel distant from one another even when people live on the same continent. The recent event surrounding the US – Mexico wall and the way immigrants have been treated serves to prove that the concept of neglecting people as ‘others’, ‘foreigners’ and ‘immigrants’ is sadly still not an old-fashioned one. We live in a world of walls that continue to increase. Coexisting with one another and learning as much as possible from those, who are different than us is a way to think forward and crucial for achieving existential progress. Rather than dividing people, nationality, race and languages should be used to unite us all.
We all have a choice – to fight what we consider different or to rise in support and acceptance of one another. In the end of the day, we like to believe that if it was us or our loved ones facing difficulties, that someone would be there to hold out their hand and help us. It is the simplest, most human thing to do.
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