Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2021
By John Heid Through the Prism of Nonviolence
“We’re goin’ all the way to Texas,” a border wall construction worker proudly told me last October. I was on a Tucson Samaritans humanitarian aid “water run” outside Sasabe, Arizona, population 54, at the time. When circumstances allow, I engage border wall workers to better understand what the men (literally) on the ground are thinking.
In the weeks leading up to the presidential inauguration, the work pace of wall construction became frenetic. Two-lane roads in rural southern Arizona were clogged with 18-wheelers transporting 30-foot posts and concrete mix. The border was a swirl of workers and machines going at breakneck speed. Efficient. Driven. Like the red ants of Texas on a bone.
On January 20, inauguration day, everything came to a halt. Like mist evaporating at first light of dawn, all was still along the border line. No more dynamite blasting the granite hillsides. No more trucks roaring down the highway. In surrounding towns, workers were terminating their rental leases or checking out of their motel rooms. A wary calm was settling on the Arizona-Sonora-border lands. Still, a bevy of questions lingered, not the least being, will the other shoe drop? Days turned into weeks. Could it be true? Had the nightmare really ended?
On February 10, a companion and I returned to the wall road at Sasabe to assess the situation. How far had the “all the way to Texas” construction gone? Were there unfinished sections where we might still be able to place water for people crossing this remote desert terrain? We passed the once bustling muster yard. All the familiar office trailers and heavy equipment were present but were still as a ghost town. We began our drive along the border wall road adjacent to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and soon noticed some activity.
Off in the distance. Construction workers! A few here, a few there, like ants quietly working away. A pick-up truck approached. Our access was blocked. The driver announced: “This is an inactive work zone. I can’t prohibit you from proceeding, but I have to caution you there’s rock crushing activity ahead. Heavy machinery. It could be dangerous. I advise you to turn back.” He drove off and so did we. In opposite directions. We had to see for ourselves what an “inactive” rock-crushing work zone means. Borderland double-speak.
We drove the wall road for a dozen or so miles. The wall stretched to the horizon like a never ending coil of unraveled wire. In the distance we began to hear the roar of heavy equipment. The myth of “no more wall work” was shattered. The following morning I saw photos taken the same day by another Samaritan crew that accessed the wall road further east. Devastating. Mining scale bulldozers are shown slashing a wide swath over a cacti-covered hill in the Coronado National Forest — pristine wilderness plowed down.
All to say there is a wall. It’s not going away. It’s metastasizing. A low profile presence, double speak, and legal machinations are the strategy. No parade of trucks and workers is crowding small border towns. The destruction goes on, unimpeded, undercover, in plain, albeit remote, sight.
The US Army Corps of Engineers’ line is, “The work is part of the contractor’s obligation to ensure work site safety and security.” Whose safety? Whose security? The only safe solution is to tear down that wall and restore the habitat — all the way to Texas.
—John Heid writes from Tucson, Arizona. He recommends visiting <biologicaldiversity.org> for more information.