National Emergency, Personal Trip / by Karie Luidens


This morning, while President Trump stood in the Rose Garden announcing that there was a national emergency on the border, I was loading an overnight bag into my car. My plan: drive four hours south from Albuquerque through southern New Mexico to El Paso, Texas. To the border. To the heart of the so-called emergency.

I’ve been to El Paso once before. In fact, in the last two years I’ve visited the U.S.-Mexican border more times than Trump, who’s only come four times. Me, I’ve touched the steel slats that divide San Diego from Tijuana, driven east through the desert of southern California and Arizona, walked up to the fence separating Nogales, Arizona, from Nogales, Mexico. (Border cities tend to rise in symbiotic pairs.) 

I haven’t crossed into Mexico by foot or car—yet—but I’ve come close. I’ve peered across ports of entry from El Paso into Juárez, Del Rio into Ciudad Acuña, Laredo into Nuevo Laredo, and Brownsville into Matamoros. I’ve heard Pacific waves crash through the bollards that extend out into the ocean, sat cross-legged on the dirt banks of the Rio Grande eating a picnic lunch in Big Bend National Park across the way from a friendly fisherman (he waved and called “¡Hola!”), and walked the glistening sand of the Gulf of Mexico at Texas’s southeasterly tip where it slips into the sea. 

Sea to shining sea. All in the span of a few weeks last winter.

And today, in spite of the so-called crisis at the border, I packed my bag and followed the Rio Grande’s flow from Albuquerque south to El Paso, where it transforms from a silty wash of river into a moat channeled through a man-made concrete chute.

In Albuquerque, where the Rio Grande’s flow merely slides through a single city, I like to walk dirt trails through the cottonwood forests that line its banks and watch for migrating birds gliding on its surface.

In El Paso, where the Rio Grande suddenly becomes an international boundary, I won’t be able to approach it: ever since 2008, the river there is lined with more steel bollard wall. 

Still, I’m going. National emergency or no, I knew I’d be back eventually. Later maybe I’ll read and watch what the president had to say in the Rose Garden. For now, I’m going to go see what I can see for myself.