Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. With time, would it end up keeping Mexicans out — or keeping Americans in?

walls
A worker stands next to a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Sunland Park, U.S., opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, 25 January 2017.
(REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez)

By Robert Holloway

It is the year 2242.

A small group of people emerge from a battered bus in the morning twilight. They walk across barren ground towards a white concrete wall that stretches left and right as far as the eye can see.

They are thin and shabbily dressed. Their faces are lowered, perhaps because the ground is uneven, or maybe because they fear their quest is hopeless.

As they draw near, they notice a metal fence between them and the wall. It’s 12 feet high, topped with razor wire, with a yellow warning: Electrified.

A guard in the watchtower, 30 feet above ground, orders them to stop. He motions them towards a metal gate in the fence. It has no handle.

Two men open a door in the wall below the watchtower and walk towards them along the concrete strip behind the fence. One carries a clipboard, the other a submachine gun.

“I need four fruit pickers for the day, 55 pesos each,” says the first man as he reaches the gate.

He points at two women and two men. “You, you, you and you. Inside.” He clips them with an electronic ankle bracelet before leading them through the door to a waiting flatbed truck.

As they turn away, the unlucky ones look up at a white ceramic plaque with black lettering: “The final section of the U.S.-Mexico security border was inaugurated by President Donald J. Trump on July 4, 2024.”

They trudge north towards the ruins of Laredo, Texas.

When Trump was born, Britain possessed the world’s largest empire.

Historians have different ways of interpreting the past, but of one thing we can be sure: No empire lasts for ever.

The largest man-made barrier — the Great Wall of China — is more than 13,000 miles long. It took centuries to build, but the most intense period of construction was during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

At the time, China was one of the most advanced countries in the world; the wall was built to protect its civilization from contamination by barbarians.

After China turned its back on outsiders, its economy shrank and its brilliant culture went into decline. By the late 19th century, the country was ripe for exploitation by foreign powers.

Today, China is again one of the most powerful nations, but only after invasions, civil war and political upheaval that caused famine, suffering and death for tens of millions of its people.

The emperor Hadrian gave his name to a wall, built to mark the northern limit of the Roman empire on what is now the border between England and Scotland. Tourists admire the beauty of its stonework, which has outlasted the empire by centuries.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, perhaps the most prodigious builder of antiquity, erected giant walls covered with bas-relief sculptures to celebrate his conquests. Tourists photograph them too, but Egypt has long been reduced to the ranks of the poorer countries.

Donald Trump might scoff that these examples are all drawn from the ancient world. But when he was born in 1946, the British still possessed the largest empire that had ever existed, one on which it was said that the sun never set.

All that remains today are a few scattered islands that the British would be hard pressed to defend if even a weaker country decided to seize them.

It is anyone’s guess what the next two centuries will bring. But it would be ironic if the wall that Trump wants to erect to keep Mexicans out, ends up by shutting Americans in.

Read another News-Decoder article on walls, by Bernd Debusmann.

rholloway5 (461x640)Robert Holloway is News-Decoder Editor. A British-born French citizen, he had a long career at Agence France-Presse as a journalist and editor before becoming director of the AFP Foundation, the international media training arm of the global news agency. He joined AFP in 1988 and served as Sydney bureau chief, foreign editor, head of the English desk in Paris, United Nations correspondent in New York, deputy managing editor and acting editor in chief.

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