Educators And Immigration

The U.S./Mexico Border Wall

Nogales, Arizona - Nogales, Sonora
Douglas, Arizona - Agua Prieta, Sonora

One of the major reasons for traveling to Arizona was for students to see the border wall. About 580 miles of physical barrier exist along the nearly 2,000-mile border that goes from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas.[i] Seeing this border wall was different than learning about it from readings or movies. Jason De León explains the concept of “prevention through deterrence” describing how the U.S. Border Patrol used the wall to route migration patterns away from populated areas to dangerous deserts and other natural environments.[ii] These operations included Operation “Hold the Line” (1993 in El Paso, TX), Operation “Gatekeeper” (1994 in Southern California), Operation “Safeguard” (1994 in Arizona), and Operation “Rio Grande” (1997 in South Texas).[iii] Todd Miller discusses how these operations expanded the border wall, greatly increased the number of border patrol agents and saw the implementation of new technologies for surveillance (infrared night-vision scopes, seismic sensors, and modern computer processing systems).[iv] The attacks on September 11, 2001 increased the focus on security and the border, and led to more border agents and military technology to police the borderlands. In 2003, the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) was abolished and three new agencies were established U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), all falling under the authority of the newly created Department of Homeland Security.[v]

During the 2017 LIBRE trip, the group traveled to the border wall that divides Nogales, Arizona from Nogales, Sonora in Mexico. In 2019, LIBRE visited the wall dividing Douglas, Arizona from Agua Prieta in Sonora. Both of these locations had existing border walls. Between 2017 and 2019, the Trump administration had deployed military troops to the border (including National Guard troops from the state of Wisconsin) who added layers of barbed wire to the wall. Being able to experience being at the wall was a moving experience for all, and led to deep reflection on the ways in which a physical barrier can have such a huge impact on two communities that were historically able to “cross” fairly easily. One of most powerful moments for the 2017 cohort was seeing a community through the border wall. There were cars moving, street vendors, and kids playing during recess. We saw the port of entry for cars and the walkway for pedestrians. Life was happening on both sides of the border, as the wall literally cut its way through the community. In 2019, we had to be careful because of the razor sharp barbed wire coiled along the wall from top to bottom. As our group approached the wall, a border patrol agent approached us and cautioned us to be careful with the barbed wire. One of the ways the group processed the moment was through pictures. Marisol Clark-Ibáñez has documented how to use photo elicitation as a way to capture resilience, struggles, and activism.[vi] Below is a picture taken by one of our students, along with her reflection.


[i] “The Border Wall that Already Exists,” last modified n.d., accessed January, 2019,

[ii] Jason De León, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail, Vol. 36. University of California Press, 2015).

[iii] “Border Patrol History,” last modified October 5,

[iv] Todd Miller, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. City Lights Publishers, 2014).

[v] “Our History,” last modified May 25,

[vi] Marisol Clark-Ibáñez, Undocumented Latino Youth: Navigating their Worlds. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Incorporated, 2015).

Student Projects

LIBRE participants documented their experiences through the use of digital photography.

Walking by the Border

by Lupe Salmeron

Border Wall

by Zenab Nafid

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