The Borders Between Us. The Borders Within Us (non-fiction narrative)

By Caitlin Patler

Caitlin Patler is a PhD student in the UCLA Department of Sociology. She has been an activist for the DREAM Act and immigrants’ rights for the last decade.

Reflections on a Border Patrol Ride-Along (September, 2009)

The borders between us. The borders within us. The borders that threaten to divide our hearts and our humanity.


On one side of the U.S.-Mexico border, new residential housing projects are popping up like little plastic figures on a Monopoly board. You know the type—the ones where all the houses are the exact same size and color, with perfectly manicured mini-lawns and two-car garages. Colorful children’s play structures in backyards have a front-row view of a newly funded fence, three meters high, built recently of the strongest metals and barbed wire.

A fence already laden with patches

of the holes burnt with blow torches

by those who must risk everything in the pursuit of bread and shelter, life and liberty

On the other side of the fence are places like “Colonia Libertad,” its almost absurdly ironic name a long-standing yet often farcical ideal of the next-door nation. Here the houses are made of corrugated roofing and old pieces of wood, a prototypical display of poverty. Small children walk home from school on dirt roads, waving and yelling in broken English “hello lady!”


The border extends about 50 feet into the Pacific Ocean. Waves pass back and forth in and out of the two nations, over time twisting and warping the wood and metal fence. All day and night, “static” border patrol agents sit in jeeps and patrol the beaches. During the night, florescent lights reminiscent of a football stadium illuminate the most arbitrary line in the world.

The patrolman brings us to the auto crossing at Tecate. He shows us a tall rusting metal gate where deportees are “sent back” to Mexico.

A separate gate, just for deportees

A separate gate, connected to a metal fence spanning several miles

A fence through which millions of Mexican mothers must reach for their children during visits, never able to actually hug them.


A government bus is idling at the gate.

An officer opens the door and

Exit: a stream of people at the





The first, a young woman, probably a mother

The officer hands her a paper bag of belongings and escorts her towards the gate

The borders between us. The borders within us. The borders that threaten to divide our hearts and our humanity.

More inland, the border has been recently fortified, thanks to funding from the last three U.S. presidents. (The silver steel fence is terrifying, daunting, the government’s perfectly constructed image of an “enforced” boundary). Everything is dusty and dry—almost desolate—and today’s not even very hot.

We are driving through a gulch-like area of about 100 yards, a sort of No-Man’s Land separating the two countries, when I notice something in the road. It’s tattered, dusty, but still retains its form: a child’s Raggedy Anne doll.


About three miles inland from the beach, the patrolman’s radio is on, and I can hear agents talking to each other: “we’ve got a sighting at such-and-such point, looks like 3 or 4 individuals, I’m going to see whether it’s alien or animal.”

Alien or animal?

Between us, within us, borders. Borders that threaten to divide our hearts and our humanity.


A hawk is soaring back and forth over the fence, playfully riding the wind. He is almost too ironic. The border patrolman jokes: “don’t worry, later we’ll hunt him down and make sure he stays on his side.”



One Response to “The Borders Between Us. The Borders Within Us (non-fiction narrative)”
  1. Maga says:

    while reading this, it made me really wanna hear the spoken word out loud!

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