Border towns fight Trump’s plan to put razor wire in their backyards

Concertina wire covers the US side of the border fence in Nogales, AZ.
Concertina wire covers the US side of the border fence in Nogales, AZ.
Image: Robert Bushell/US Customs and Border Protection handout
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President Donald Trump will continue his push for a border wall between the US and Mexico at a rally tonight in El Paso, but his administration has in fact been fortifying the border for months.

Troops have installed 70 miles of razor-sharp concertina wire along the border, according to the Department of Defense (DoD). Another 150 miles are scheduled to go up by March 31, and the soldiers will stay at the border through September.

Communities say the wire is not only unsightly and dangerous, but that it’s not needed. Most border counties have lower crime rates than similar counties elsewhere in the US, according to the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

An expensive barrier

Trump’s border operation has so far cost approximately $240 million, and could reach $1 billion by the end of the year, per the DoD.

On Friday, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it’s sending more wire, as well as other resources to fortify the ports of entry in Eagle Pass, Texas. An additional 3,750 troops will also be deployed to the southwest border to make sure ports of entry “are not overrun by a large number of people attempting to enter the US illegally,” according to CBP.

An unwelcome sight

Many of those who live along the border don’t appreciate the militarization of their towns, and say that they do not feel unsafe living there to begin with. Nationally, the violent crime rate is approximately 383 offenses per 100,000 residents. In the border city of McAllen, Texas, the rate is 144 per 100,000.

Yet at the beginning of November, soldiers in Texas hung rows of concertina wire from the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge. McAllen mayor Jim Darling said the city has “taken some of it down because we didn’t think it was appropriate,” according to KPBS radio. “Thought it was more dangerous than preventive.”

Concertina wire can cause horrific injuries, and can be fatal. In neighboring San Juan, humanitarian worker Ann Cass worries about animals and people getting hurt by the wire. “To me, it is a sad sight to see such cruelty displayed on our border when we should have another Statue of Liberty there to welcome asylum seekers,” Cass told Quartz.

Razor wire was installed last November along border fencing in Laredo, Texas, but it was removed three weeks later following criticism from local lawmakers.

A fight in Nogales

Officials in Nogales, Arizona are also working to remove the six rows of concertina wire covering the American side of the 25-foot-high fencing from top to bottom in certain areas, some of which cut through residential neighborhoods. The Nogales city council voted unanimously last week to approve a resolution demanding the wire be removed. Concertina wire at ground level is “typically only found in a war, battlefield, or prison setting, and not in an urban setting,” the resolution says.

The city claims the wire violates local ordinances, and is considering legal action against CBP. Nogales mayor Arturo Garino walked out of a meeting last Wednesday with US Border Patrol officials after they refused to take it down.

A spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told Quartz that the additional strands of concertina wire are limited to “high-risk urban areas commonly exploited by criminal smuggling organizations.” They are marked by warning signs, and are set up on land managed by the federal government, she added.

Nogales Border Wall and Concertina Wire
The current state of the border fence in Nogales.
Image: Robert Bushell/US Customs and Border Protection handout

Ties with Mexico

Locals say the wire is disrupting daily life in their communities, which have deep economic and cultural ties with Mexico. In December, US congressman Vicente Gonzalez, a south Texas Democrat whose district juts up against the Mexican border, sent a letter to CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan asking the agency to ensure the complete removal of the wire.

“We have US citizens who work in Mexico, Mexican citizens who work in the US, and relationships between companies on both sides of the border that are suffering due to the presence of US troops, concertina wire, and other elements associated with armed conflict,” Gonzalez wrote.

Nogales Border Wall and concertina Wire
As of last week, Nogales residents look at top-to-bottom coils of concertina wire in some areas.
Image: Robert Bushell/US Customs and Border Protection handout

In El Paso, some residents have planned a demonstration to point out the president’s inaccurate portrayal of the border. In his State of the Union last week, Trump said El Paso was crime-ridden until a border fence was erected in 2008. El Paso’s violent crime rate was below the national average before then. In fact, crime went up somewhat after the barrier was put in place, but has since fallen below the national average again.