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Notes from the U.S./Mexico Border South of San Diego, California

Posted By Kevin R. Johnson, Mar 31, 2010

This week began with a trip to sunny Southern California and a tour of the U.S./Mexico border.

On Monday, I traveled to San Diego for a conference of U.S. and European academics devoted to "Population, Integration and Law: Implications for Immigration Policy."  The conference included a tour of the border region near the Otay Mesa and San Ysidro ports of entry and along the border fences to the Pacific Ocean.  There are two fences along this section of the border:  (1) one is made of old corrugated metal air strips used in Viet Nam that created a rickety fence on the actual border between the United States and Mexico, and (2) the other fence is a relatively new, stainless steel (appearing at least) mesh fence with razor wire on the top located a few hundred yards from the first fence on the U.S. side.   

Razor wire fence
Razor wire fence near Otay Mesa

Our Border Patrol guide explained that the razor wire deterred migrants from climbing the fence and falling, thus requiring the "waste" of taxpayer money because a Border Patrol officer had to spend time at the hospital watching over the migrant.  That made me wonder about the human costs of razor wire and the migrants who tried to get over it.

During the one-and-a-half hour afternoon tour, there appeared to be relatively few migrants in the general vicinity of the two border fences.  We stopped to look at a neighborhood in Tijuana known as Colonia Libertad, which we were told was a haven for drug dealers; the only things we could see were a run-down neighborhood with children and dogs peacefully playing on a springtime afternoon.  As we drove past Smuggler's Gulch, the road, which had been paved in places since my last visit, was bumpy and windy but no smugglers appeared on the horizon.  We made it to the famous bull ring by the beach where the border fence that had extended a short way into the ocean had been washed out by the waves.  The state park on the U.S. side of the fences had a grand vista of the Pacific but was inhabited, it appeared, only by Border Patrol vehicles.

Bull ring at Pacific Ocean
Bull ring near the beach

All in all, it was a pretty uneventful trip.  The U.S./Mexico border south of San Diego appeared much calmer than I remembered  it more than 15 years ago.  Still, at least listening to the Border Patrol officers, it did appear that the old game of cat-and-mouse remained; some migrants seek to come up with new schemes to enter the United States and the Border Patrol attempts to figure out and stop the new schemes.

The conference was sponsored by the German Marshall Fund TEAMS, UC Berkeley European Center of Excellence, and UC San Diego Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.  It was organized by Phil Martin (Agricultural Economics, UC Davis) and Kay Hailbronner (University of Konstanz, Germany)Here is the full program, with links to some of the papers presented.

Read the rest of this entry and see more pictures at ImmigrationProf blog: