Borders mark the contours of nations, states, even cities, defining them by separating them from all others. A border can be natural—an ocean, a river, a chain of mountains—or it can be artificial, splitting a homogeneous landscape into two. Often it is highly literal, announcing itself in the shape of a concrete wall, a sand berm, a tall fence topped with barbed wire. But whatever form it takes, a border always conveys meaning. Hours before my encounter with the Border Patrol, as the airplane I was on began its descent, I saw from my window seat the wall that separates El Paso from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. On one side were gleaming towers, giant freeways and sprawling parks; on the other, homes huddling together in the afternoon light, winding streets and patches of dry grass. Here you will find safety and prosperity, the wall seemed to say, but over there lie danger and poverty. It’s a message that ignores the cities’ joint history, language and cultures. But it is simple—one might say simplistic—and that is what gives it power.
“The Border Is All Around Us, and It’s Growing” in The New York Times Magazine