Boundary monument #252 stands along the U.S.-Mexico boundary line right after you drive past the many maquiladoras. Interestingly, most maquilas jut right up against the border and photographer Maria Teresa Fernandez and I needed to drive alongside many belching trucks until we found this little gem — surrounded by piles of sandy dirt.
Unlike the iron monuments of #257, #256, #253 and #254, this one is made of masonry. However, that actually isn’t unusual. #255 is the only monument made of granite. #258 is the only one made of marble. All the other 276 monuments are a mix between iron and masonry, although iron monuments are the most. The next masonry monument is 207, already in Arizona.
The ubiquitous military landing mat, of course, stands behind the marker as well as the one-way bolted door. I suppose, however, that at #252 the ocean breeze is too far away and the weather gives way to a hot desert. Two signs along the wall warn of dehydration and beware of dangerous animals, such as snakes.
It’s foreboding country, I tell you. We wanted to look for #251, but another steep slope doesn’t allow us to drive any further on the American side, although it’s easy to see that on the other side, Border Patrol has created a smooth asphalt road along the wall, so that the SUV’s can easily race by or sit in wait for wall-hoppers.
A Little Bit of San Diego-Tijuana Wall-Building History
Wall building along the U.S.-Mexico border has been incongruous. Done piecemeal and at different times, the San Diego-Tijuana wall has its own distinct history. This slice is particularly important because it splits not only a continuous ecology, but also a congruous economy that looses out on more than $7 billion annually due to security.
In 1955, the Bay Cities Press reported that a chain link fence was being built along the U.S.-Mexican border in order to keep animals and people on either side from crossing. The fence was placed against the middle of the boundary monuments. Rust on #255 still reminds us of this fence.
Cold War fears that Red China was smuggling heroin over the border in order to juice up American youth went hand in hand with Operation Wetback, which deported Mexicans en masse. By 1962, the San Diego History Center has a picture in its archives that shows a chain link fence that crossed through much of the Tijuana River Valley.
The next important era was during the Carter Administration in the 1970’s when Herman Baca protests broke out against the “Tortilla Curtain.” Ku Klux Klan activities escalated in San Diego and fears of immigration meant that more border fences went up around San Ysidro, despite protests.
However, at Border Field State Park the fence remained only three wires from 1910 until 1994. In the 1970’s, people could swim back and forth between the two countries. They could also walk on the beach from America to Mexico, buy shrimp cocktail from a vendor and return.
The area, however, especially along Smuggler’s Gulch became a well-known crossing point for migrants and smugglers. In 1994 the Clinton Administration launched Operation Gatekeeper, which substantially increased the number of Border Patrol in the region. The Army Corp of Engineers also erected recycled military landing mat along the border that replaced the chain link fence. The landing mat was either from WWII or from Vietnam. (I have read articles claiming both.) The landing mat also went straight into the ocean, literally “separating the sea.”
After 9/11, the federal government focused on increased security at the U.S.-Mexico border. It took another seven years, however, until they contracted with Kiewit to build a second fence approximately 300 feet away from the military landing mat. In a few places, a triple fence went up. Camera towers were placed every 1 mile or so.
The Department of Homeland Security oversaw the project and received carte blanche by the federal government to waive any law (environmental, historical or economic) that would impede the rapid construction of the walls. They waived at least 14 laws, including historic preservation laws.
During the height of the U.S. economic recession, in 2009 the Customs and Border Protection set aside $58 million to build a 3.5 mile stretch of fence along “difficult terrain” in San Diego, according to the GAO, an investigative arm of Congress.
The Boundary Monuments since 1994 have only been accessible on the Mexican side. #252 isn’t in the greatest condition.
Adjacent to Boundary Monument #252, you’ll find Los Torres Colonia (neighborhood). Here, a water truck comes daily for people to buy what they may need. There’s no city infrastructure here: no indoor running water, no sewage treatment.
The people in Los Torres find garage doors as walls and they use tires to keep the tarps down on their home’s ceiling. They steal electricity from the regular grid. They find recycled materials to make their homes in this valley, but when it rains, the river overflows and the area often is washed out. The tires and sewage may flow down into the Tijuana River Valley, while the people from Los Torres leave or start over.
According to Mexican law, if someone has claimed a piece of land and lived on it for five or more years, they own it. Many of these Colonias are right next to the maquiladoras, where most people likely work during the day.
The view from the homes in Los Torres Colonia is of the military landing mat, the mountains and the Border Patrol SUV hovering behind the wall along with surveillance cameras.
Who Cleans Them?
When I looked at #252, I couldn’t help but ask: who is responsible for cleaning these monuments?
I went right to The International Boundary and Water Commission, which has a wonderful archive in El Paso, Texas. They have the joint reports from engineers about the maintenance of boundary monuments.
The November 8, 1973 Joint Report of the Principal Engineers on a maintencae program for the International Land Boundary Monuments sent the following recommendations:
“We propose that the Commission adopt a permanent program of maintenance of all the monuments on the land boundary, with the initial undertaking at the earliest practical time and thereafter at intervals of not more than ten years, and such interim maintenance of those monuments as require repairs. The monuments should be maintained as necessary to assure at all times their proper location, permanence, and visibility.”
To ensure equitable division of work and maintenance costs, the commission recommended that one-half of the 276 monuments be taken care of by the U.S. and the other half by Mexico. Mexico from 1 to 70 and from 206 to 258. The U.S. from 80 to 204-A.
So the Mexican government is responsible for cleaning #252.
And what about the doors? Recently, I met with Steve Smullen from the IBWC who explained that when the military landing mat was erected by Border Patrol, the IBWC explained that the IBWC needed doors in order to have access to the boundary monuments and the flow of water. The CBP conceded, but they created the doors at an unknown date.