Since 1854, when the United States made the Gadsden Purchase and paid Mexico $10 million for close to 30,000 square miles of southern Arizona and what’s called “the boot-heel” of Southwestern New Mexico, America’s southern border with Mexico has been fixed, stable, unchanging.
What’s changed pretty constantly over the past 165 years have been the ebbs and flows of numbers and nationalities of people seeking to cross that border into the United States.
Managing those changes has never been easy, especially when the numbers have peaked, but as a country, we’d done a pretty good job. Letting in through predictable, legal processes, millions of people who have made America greater, keeping out most genuine undesirables.
Of course, there have always been slip-ups, but even in those cases of illegal entry, the overwhelming majority have brought to America people who have, by their own hands or those of their children, benefited their new hometowns and nation.
President Donald Trump whose political career has been built on fears and resentments strategically aimed at immigrants, was confronted by one of those historic waves of migrants from Central America. Ignorant or dismissive of how American governments have always dealt with migration surges, he’s responded by dismantling the processes for legal immigration and displaying conspicuous cruelty towards those driven to illegal border-crossing.
The victims of Trump’s spectacular meanness and incompetence include not just would-be immigrants being chiseled by the kind of quasi-legal bullying which “The Donald” has made a lifetime trademark, but the American citizens whose properties are being penetrated along with the border and the federal officers whose attempts to enforce the law are overwhelmed or made morally repugnant by the decisions of their negligent bosses back in Washington.
Jens Erik Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.