Immigration, the Border, and the Fate of the Land

Notes on a Crisis

One hundred and seventy miles southwest of Tucson, hard by the Mexico line, stands a weathered mountain range called the Cabeza Prieta.  It is a place of weird landforms and scarce but formidable vegetation, a graduate school for desert rats that only the best prepared dares enter.  The geography of the place says, Stay away.  To emphasize the point, the sky rains metal as military aircraft drop payloads of bombs and spray rivers of bullets onto the vast proving ground in which the Cabeza Prieta stands.

Yet, even here, a sea of trampled backpacks, electrolyte-drink bottles, underpants, toothbrushes, and cigarette butts stretches south toward the international border, lapping at the mountains’ dry flank.  A small city’s worth of shoeprints punctuates every wash and pass: cowboy boots, tennis shoes, huarache sandals, even high heels.  They are all pointed north, leaving a broad avenue through a desert that, absent the occasional bomb crater, was, until recently, as pristine as any in North America, so much so that environmental activists in Arizona long pressed for it to be given national-monument status, with its attendant protections.  That will not happen, not while the Cabeza Prieta is a war zone, not while the sea rises and rises.

It is the same in San Diego, in Marfa, in Laredo, in Columbus.  The southern frontier of the United States, from the Pacific to the Gulf...

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