UA Mall border fence project divides students
University of Arizona students returned from spring break only to find a 1,200-foot-long fence topped with barbed wire bisecting the campus.
The mock border wall, a project entitled “Wall to Wall - Concrete Connections/Conexiones Concretas”, runs the length of the UA Mall and will remain as an obstacle for students and faculty to navigate around until March 31.
“We hope to quicken the conscience of our community and shake them into action to end these abuses,” said Gabriel Matthew Schivone, president of No Más Muertes/No More Deaths, referring to the hundreds of deaths of illegal immigrants that occur along the U.S.-Mexico border each year.
According to a 2009 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, since border enforcement policies such as Operation Gatekeeper went into effect in 1994, 5,600 illegal immigrants have died while attempting unauthorized border crossings.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 649 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing have been completed along the southwest border as of March 4. A 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office revealed that the number of deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border has increased steadily since 1985.
The wall is meant to spotlight what No More Deaths characterizes as militarization occurring along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as immigration and border enforcement policies in Arizona, the U.S., and abroad.
A portion of the barrier is dedicated to the Israeli West Bank barrier wall. Widely criticized for intruding on Palestinian lands and cutting them off from economic and agricultural opportunities, the barrier wall was deemed illegal by the U.N. International Court of Justice in 2004.
Intended to create an open dialogue for supporters and detractors alike, many students have already taken the opportunity to express their opinions on the issue. In a nod to President Ronald Reagan’s call to Mikhail Gorbachev to remove the Berlin Wall, Bryan Gordon, co-coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace and a graduate student in Linguistics and Anthropology at UA, tied orange ribbon to the fence to spell out “Mr. Netanyahu tear down this wall.”
Ehab Tamimi, a Palestinian-American graduate student in biosystems engineering at UA, stood by the Palestinian segment of the mock wall to answer questions for curious students passing by. Max Rusinov, a 25 year old Israeli citizen and former Israeli Defense Force sergeant, engaged Tamimi and Gordon in debate over the legality of the barrier.
In the course of an hour on Monday afternoon they discussed the “temporary” nature of the West Bank barrier, its effects on the freedom of movement of Palestinian citizens, and the effectiveness of the barrier in deterring violence and suicide bombings.
“I’m not saying it’s a good thing,” Rusinov said referring to the barrier wall, “but it’s the only way to protect our citizens.”
Tamimi and Rusinov parted ways speaking to each other in Hebrew and Rusinov was invited to return the next day to continue their discussion. Literature illustrating the Israeli perspective on the West Bank barrier wall can be found alongside the literature offered by AZ Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine.
Not all student groups felt they had equal opportunity to share their opinions on the mock border wall.
Late Tuesday night, UA College Republicans set up a tribute to the Border Patrol in protest of the project.
According to UA College Republican Trey Terry, “This is an indirect response to the fence being put up by various student groups and co-sponsored by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.”
“We raised a lot of money in twelve hours,” Terry explained. Funding for their tribute to the Border Patrol came from several small private donations to the organization. “The main reason for this is because they are making a mockery of our borders,” Terry said.
Representatives from No More Deaths responded that UA student groups were made aware of the mock border wall through university listserv messages, campus advertising, and press releases. Organizations were given the opportunity to sponsor a segment of the wall to put up their own literature on the issue.
The mock border fence cost roughly $2,000 to erect and was sponsored in large part by money provided by the ASUA Appropriations Board, which spent $882 on the project. The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences pledged $300 and various academic departments also gave smaller amounts to the project.
Funding for the wall has also come from student groups - including the Women’s Resource Center, Social Justice League, UA for Border Justice, JUNTOS, UNIDOS, Vagina Warriors, AZ Jewish Voice for Peace, and Students for Justice in Palestine - that sponsored segments of the fence, members of No More Deaths, and private donors.
The closing paragraph of the Concrete Connections manifesto reads, “Yes, we aim to disturb. Yes, we aim to increase tension. But it is a creative disturbance we aim for, it is an educative tension...”
In light of the debates, discussions, and demonstrations held on the mall this week, the aims of the wall project's organizers appear to have been met.