It’s day six of the Trump administration and we are finally starting to grasp the implications of our newly minted, autocratically inclined commander-in-chief. Which is to say: all of the unthinkable promises he made on the campaign trail are slowly taking shape in the form of a stream of nightmarish executive orders.
Just today, the delusional, reactionary, and patently unfeasible talking point many of us most feared – a massive border wall together with a restrictive immigration policy – was set in motion with a hasty flick of the wrist, as President Trump seemingly signed away the soul of this country with an impish grin. Couching his rhetoric in the same apocalyptic, “law and order” language that characterized his inauguration, Trump’s latest executive order beefed up immigration enforcement and called for the immediate commencement of construction on his signature wall.
For anyone still remotely tethered to empirical reality, today’s events may seem like a fever dream – not the least because the prospect of building a concrete wall along the nearly 2,000 mile-stretch of our southern border is quite simply impossible. But we seem to live in times where reality no longer stands in the way of humanity’s most base, reactionary impulses. So for a much needed dose of perspective we’ve turned to the Washington Post‘s beautifully designed 2016 multimedia feature “A New Age of Walls”, which explores the exploding phenomenon of border barriers from a global, local, and historical standpoint, situating our current national climate in the midst of a broader trend toward tribal retrenchment.
Filled with informative graphics and copy, revelatory interviews, and powerful audiovisual content, “A New Age of Walls” is the type of deep-dive journalism that we need to get our bearings in a world that is so quickly shifting beneath us. Below we’ve included a rundown of some of the piece’s most salient points.
Scroll through the three part feature in its entirety here.
Texas Is the Final Frontier for the US-Mexico Border Wall
Big Bend / Photo: Peter Potterfield
Mostly thanks to the Secure Fence Act of 2006 – which enjoyed broad bipartisan support – 700 miles of the nearly 2000 mile US-Mexico border have already been lined fences. The vast majority of this milage is concentrated in California, Arizona, and New Mexico, while Texas continues to rely on the Rio Grande as its primary barrier.
This is in large part a logistical issue: most of the land along the Texas border is privately owned by ranchers who are reluctant to give up precious grazing pastures, while the Rio Grande constantly floods and changes course as it wends its way through rocky, inhospitable terrain.
Many Proponents of the Wall Are Undeterred by the Logistical Challenges
The Washington Post spent time with Texans in border towns like Del Rio, and most seemed unfazed by the logistical limitations inherent in such an undertaking. “If we can go to the moon, we can build a wall,” summarized one interviewee, echoing Trump’s own assertions that his wall would be a wonder of the world on par with China’s Great Wall. “I’ve seen fences built in this country in places you wouldn’t imagine,” asserted another. “And they managed to do it.”
Existing Fences Don't Always Follow the Actual Border
The few fences that do exist along the Texas-Mexico border compensate for the tricky terrain by moving inland to the nearest convenient location. This means that personal properties and even entire communities run the risk of being ‘cut off from America,” as one business owner puts it.
Indeed, for the suburban community of River Bend, in Brownsville, TX, that means at least 200 homeowners would lose their freedom of movement and likely be forced to relocated to the other side of the hypothetical wall.
For Lipan Apache civil rights leader Eloisa Tamez, such disconnection is already a reality: her ancestral land in Texas was split in two by a massive fence, and she is forced to walk nearly a quarter of a mile to access the other side through a heavy-duty electronic gate.
Europe and Israel Are Already Way Ahead of Us
Photo: Baz Ratner for Reuters
Amidst an ongoing refugee crisis, Europe has actually been leading the way in barrier construction along national borders. Since 2015, imposing razor wire fences have popped up across central and south-east Europe, with country’s like Hungary, Austria, Greece, and Croatia erecting massive deterrents for desperate migrants fleeing war and destruction. The United Kingdom even funded a wall around the French port of Calais, which happens to be the preferred departure point for migrants hoping to cross the channel to England.
For its part, Israel now has walls or fences along borders with every one of its neighboring countries, and plans to complete a wall along a southern stretch of the border with Jordan promise to seal off the country entirely. Many of these barriers serve the ostensible purpose of protecting the country hostile neighbors, but a border wall with Egypt was constructed with the express purpose of stemming the flow of African refugees crossing over from war-torn countries like Sudan.
There Are More Walls Going Up Now Than at Any Time in Modern History
The construction of barriers grew at a slow clip after World War II, with a decades-long plateau taking a downturn after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. However, graphs show a sudden and dramatic uptick in barrier construction following September 11th, with numbers spiking from well under 20 to a total of 63 walls and fences at the close of 2016.