'The Wall is a Fantasy'


NOGALES, Mexico — A few hundred feet from the American border, José Manuel Talavera contemplated his challenge with the focus, if not quite the physique, of an Olympic high jumper. A stocky coffee farmer from Honduras, he was fresh off La Bestia, or the Beast — the freight train network used by migrants to cross Mexico. Now he was preparing to vault into the United States, for the third time.

His options, both of which involved days of trekking through searing deserts, were unappealing: pay thousands of dollars to a guide, or carry a rucksack filled with drugs for a cartel.

Mr. Talavera shrugged. He did not see himself as a factor in America’s presidential election, even though he had a vague idea about Donald J. Trump and his threats to build a “beautiful, impenetrable wall.” It seemed silly: Was the border not already walled? He knew how hard it was to cross. The first time, a Mexican drug cartel kidnapped him and took all his money. On the second attempt he made it to America only to be captured, detained for two months and put on a plane back to Honduras. It was his first flight. “One month to get there, four hours to go back,” Mr. Talavera recalled with a smile. “At least the ticket was free.”

Now the border loomed again, bristling with guards and cameras. This time, if caught, he faced six months in detention. He didn’t care. “I’ll go back and try again,” he said. Nothing could stop him, he said. Not even a new wall.

Across the globe, walls are going up. In Europe, columns of refugees snaking over borders have sent leaders scrambling for solutions in concrete and razor wire. Hungary has erected a 108-mile-long fence to keep out Syrians; at the French port of Calais, Britain is funding a barrier to prevent Afghans and Africans slipping into the channel tunnel. Public sympathy for immigrants, once kindled by images of drowned infants washing up on European shores, has been curdled by terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Nice. The defensive mood has spread to Africa, where Kenya plans to build a 440-mile-long wall along its frontier with Somalia to keep out the Shabab militia.

As a reporter based in the Middle East, I’ve mostly been on the other side of those walls, in places that might be described as the underbelly of globalization. This spring, in a scruffy Egyptian fishing village at the mouth of the Nile, I met restless teenagers who, drawn by images of Western glamour on Facebook, yearned to board the smugglers’ boats. In the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo, I had breakfast with a surgeon who, as bombs exploded outside, spoke of dispatching his family to Canada. In Tripoli, Libya, a young Nigerian migrant named Oke peeked through a church door, mulling his chances of surviving the fraught voyage across the Mediterranean.

America, the land of migrants, never seemed to need walls. It had water — vast oceans, east and west — and, since 2001, a formidable visa program. And yet this year, the dream of a grand protective barrier across the 2,000-mile frontier with Mexico catapulted Mr. Trump’s presidential bid into stunning viability. “Build that wall!” chanted candidate and crowd in unison at rallies this year.

Read the entire article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/opinion/sunday/the-wall-is-a-fantasy.html?smid=fb-share