A long line of fencing snakes along the Rio Grande separating the U.S. city of El Paso and Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez. The barrier was completed in 2009.
U.S. President Donald Trump hails this as the blueprint for the U.S. southern border.
Trump declared Friday a national emergency at the border to access roughly 8 billion U.S. dollars to push for his signature campaign promise of a border wall on the southern border.
The action will allow the president to use executive powers to bypass Congress to get access to money for funding his long-pledged barrier, following a two-month confrontation between the White House and Congressional Democrats and a record-breaking 35-day partial government shutdown which ended in late January.
The funding will combine the 1.375 billion bipartisan funding bill just approved by Congress with more than 6 billion dollars from the Department of Defense and 600 million dollars from the Treasury Department.
The president has stressed that once the wall was built, violent crime in El Paso fell dramatically, but local organizations say that’s simply not the case.
“That’s laughable. If you live in El Paso, and you were here in El Paso the last 20 years or 30 years as we have been in El Paso doing this work, we know that is a lie, and that is a distortion of the reality. El Paso started being one of the safest cities by the year of 2004. The timelines are different. However, the president wrongfully with ill intention, connected the two timelines,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights.
According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, violent crime in El Paso has declined since the mid-1990s. The city has consistently ranked in the top five of safest U.S. cities since 2004.
Despite the barrier, the two cities in two different nations are deeply intertwined. Thousands of people cross one of the border posts every day to work, to shop, to attend college, before returning home.
Many residents feel the president’s comments undermine the city’s reputation.
“There’s often a lot of statements about what it’s like being in a border city and how unsafe it is. And that’s just a complete mischaracterization intentionally to make people feel unsafe in a place where there’s no reason to feel unsafe,” said an El Paso resident.
“They’re saying that a wall protects us. But the people protect us. Where the people are safe because of the people not because of the wall,” said another El Paso resident.
This is the supposed frontline of the national emergency. But according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of apprehensions at the southern border compared to previous decades.
If the wall is extended, some groups fear that migrants will simply take more desperate paths.
“What you will see then is more people in danger. I mean we already have 500 migrants dying a year because of this heavy enforcement and this militarized border. So we’re going to see that increase. I mean more people dying somewhere in the hands of criminal organizations who have the capacity to bring people out,” said Garcia.
A barrier separates El Paso from Juarez. But it would appear that many here simply don’t buy into the narrative that a wall has brought them peace and safety.