It was a little after 5 and we had just passed Yuma coming from Arizona on I-8. I noticed that the interstate began hugging the border for the next 10 miles or so. With the border being in the news so much, I felt compelled to go see a section of it, the arbitrary separation of the two countries, the sand, the heat, the wall. We got off at the next exit and crossed over the highway. The paved road ended and a dirt road passed over a canal before ending at the wall. The canal was beautiful and ridiculous, a large aqueduct, fenced off in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert sand and baking in hundred degree heat. A sign read “No Trespassing, Property of Imperial Irrigation District”. The border fence lay a few hundred feet away.
I am so glad we decided to stop here, because it led me to research the area, the border, the canal. I learned about a bizarre relationship between the canal, migrant work, migrant deaths, and the US food supply. The canal, the All American Canal, diverts water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley. Without the water from the canal, this would be one of the driest places in the US, averaging less than three inches of rain annually. Instead, thanks to the canal, the Imperial Valley grows two thirds of the winter crops in the US. Even though the unemployment rate in the valley is over 23%, some of the highest in the country, farms often have a difficult time finding workers to harvest crops and rely heavily on undocumented labor. Over half of the people picking vegetables are undocumented.
These jobs pay around $9 a day, but people make the dangerous journey across the border to work. Not only do they have to cross the border, but they have to cross the canal as well. The All American Canal is also considered the most deadly bodies of water in the US. The cold water, swift current, and slippery concrete walls make it a death trap. Over 550 people have died since its construction, many of them undocumented migrants attempting to cross. Drowning deaths increased dramatically in the 90s when Operation Gatekeeper in the Clinton era fortified border security in San Diego and pushed migrants to cross in the remote desert, and subsequently cross the canal.
So, where we stopped is a place where people die from imaginary lines. From dehydration in the desert or drowning in the canal. People who are being proactive, who want a better life for themselves and their family, but who were born on the wrong side of the wall. People who are willing to make $9 a day to pick vegetables so I can eat like the seasons don't matter for my food and eat lettuce in the winter. And thats something I wont have to deal with because I was born here, because I'm white. When we were walking back from the wall, a border patrol car drove up to us. We figured they would stop to ask us what we were doing, why we weren't 100 feet from the wall; but they just kept driving.
Read more about the immorality of US-Mexico border policy: