Beauty from ugliness on the US-Mexico border

Presbyterian border ministry in Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora

There is a stark beauty in the natu­ral flora of the Sonoran Desert. Majestic saguaros, upholding their tall arms, are universally recognized emblems of the Southwest. All around them, similarly arrayed in dusty green tones for most of the year, are other desert-adapted succulents: prickly pear, cholla, ocotillo, paloverde.

But there is a stark ugliness of human making that greets a traveler to any of the cities along the border: a 20-foot-high barrier made of rusted steel pylons spaced a few inches apart. Birds and lizards and rabbits can pass through, but nothing larger.

These sections of the border wall were built near each crossing in the 1990s. They became even more hideous, and more threatening, with the installation in 2019 of coils of concertina wire, stretched in rows in some sections from the top down to the ground. They were installed by National Guard troops, whose deployment in response to a nonexistent emergency angered local residents. The razor-studded wire poses little threat to crossers of the wall: they only need to carry an extra strip of carpet if they throw a tall ladder over the wall at night. (Hardly anyone crosses like this anyway, except in the imagination of politicians in distant cities.) Children and dogs who venture too close to the American side, however, risk having their flesh ripped open.