Beyond the Wall: On the Frontlines

Border wall between Mexico and U.S.


Enrique Morones ‘02 (MSEL) has certainly heard about the national emergency declared on the southern border of the United States. But he hasn’t seen it.

“We’re on the frontlines,” says Morones, founder and director of Border Angels, an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that advocates for human rights and immigration reform. “Our facility in Tijuana is 50 yards from the border. I’m there a lot, and we do a great deal of humanitarian work all along the border fence. The hysterical claims I hear about hordes of people storming the fence are simply not true. In fact, undocumented migration has never been so low in my lifetime.”

The wall along the southern border proposed by President Trump, Morones says, is more a monument to ignorance and hate than a serious attempt to control immigration. He pointed to a crude handmade ladder standing in a corner of the Border Angels offices in San Diego.

“It’s 16 feet high, because the current fencing is 15 feet,” he says. “Build a 30-foot wall, and they’ll make a 31-foot ladder.”

Rather than billions for an ineffective wall, Morones suggests using the money for a Marshall Plan-like program, based on the post-World War II effort by the United States to rebuild Europe.

“These people are fleeing violence and persecution,” he says. “The vast majority of them do not want to leave their homes, but feel they have no choice. The United States spends billions of dollars in the Middle East to stabilize the area; a similar approach would work in Central America.”

The real crisis, Morones observes, is in the hate speech that has come to define the issue.

“There is no such things as an illegal person,” he says. “Calling people ‘illegal aliens,’ for example, rather than ‘undocumented immigrants’ dehumanizes them, and they become easier to attack. Hateful words lead to hateful actions.”

Morones founded Border Angels in 1986. He quickly got used to heated rhetoric. An articulate advocate, he is a popular guest on talk shows discussing immigration issues. Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly has had Morones on his Fox News show many times. The two disagreed on practically everything, but Morones says their exchanges never dissolved into the petty or personal.

“That’s all changed,” he says. “Passionate arguments have been replaced with a passionate embrace of a narrative that substitutes prejudice and disinformation for actual facts.”

Morones recalled a 2014 incident in Murrietta, 70 miles northeast of San Diego. Three busloads of undocumented mothers and children — part of a larger group who had surrendered at the Texas border and sought asylum after fleeing violence in Central America — were heading to a Border Patrol detention facility. Members of The Minutemen Project, an anti-immigrant vigilante group, and others blocked the road and stopped the buses, chanting “U.S.A!” and screaming epithets. Fearing for the safety of the migrants — and of the federal officers accompanying them — the busses were rerouted to San Diego.

“These people did not enter illegally,” Morones says. “They surrendered at the border and asked for asylum, which is what the law calls for.  And they get threatened and shouted at by an angry mob to the point they feared for their lives. They might not speak English, but they can understand hate.” — Timothy McKernan

Read our complete border story package, Beyond the Wall




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