How the border ‘wall’ became a potent political symbol

New rolls of concertina wire were recently attached to the border wall in Nogales, Ariz. Nearly 700 miles of wall have been built so far. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Call it a fence or a wall, physical barriers have been at the center of border security debate and a potent political symbol for decades. But they have never been part of the country’s political consciousness as they are today, experts say.

“It’s always been an important element of the campaign of people who believe in stricter immigration,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a director of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Migration Policy Institute. “But Trump made it a national campaign and built a presidential campaign around it. He made it the incredibly effective symbol that it has become.”

The border wall issue was at the core of the government’s longest shutdown and could derail negotiations as Democrats and Republican President Trump try to reach an agreement ahead of the Feb. 15 deadline to avoid a repeat of last month’s partial closure.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” Trump said Tuesday during his State of the Union address. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

‘Remove the razor wire,’ some Arizona border-town residents plead

Sheyla Machado, 13, seeks an opinion from her mother, Francisca Gomez, as she tries on a quinceañera dress at Kory’s in Nogales, Ariz. Gomez, who crosses the border daily, says when razor wire appeared last year, she was afraid she might get stuck on one side or the other. By Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

NOGALES, Ariz. — It’s been nearly three months since troops first showed up at the Southern Arizona border, placing razor wire atop the fence and blocking some port lanes in anticipation of Central American caravans that instead went to the California line.

As more troops are being deployed to the border, locals here are calling for the razor wire to be removed, saying it hurts businesses and sends the wrong message.

“In Nogales we are used to seeing the federal government make decisions about our surroundings,” said Evan Kory, whose family owns Kory’s and La Cinderella stores in downtown Nogales. “But the razor wire was way more aggressive than anything we had seen, which scared me. It felt like it was out of our hands as a border community. You feel powerless, like your voices aren’t heard.”

About 3,500 additional active-duty service members will be sent to the border as part of a new request from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that extends their mission through the end of the fiscal year. There are about 2,300 troops currently deployed, down from 5,900.

In Arizona, there are about 650 troops assisting Customs and Border Protection, down from the 1,500 originally deployed in the beginning of November. That’s in addition to hundreds of National Guard troops activated since April.

Across the U.S.-Mexico border, the projected cost of the deployment of the National Guard is $550 million through the fiscal year, Department of Defense officials said at a Jan. 29 congressional hearing. So far another $132 million has been spent on the active-duty military on the border, and officials said they couldn’t estimate the full fiscal-year cost.

While the soldiers were initially tasked with helping CBP strengthen ports of entry and working on logistics and transportation, the new mission focuses on surveillance and placing 150 miles of additional concertina wire away from the ports. So far, they’ve laid 70 miles of the wire near ports in Texas, Arizona and California.

On Saturday, the Nogales International newspaper reported that more troops were already in town adding wire. As many as six rows can be seen coiled across a section of fence in an image posted on social media.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.