Editor’s Note: Nearly 40 years ago this month, First Lady Pat Nixon crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and embraced Mexican children, saying, "I hate to see a fence anywhere." Times have changed, writes the commentator, and ironically, President Richard Nixon helped to bring about many of these changes. Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at
The death of nine Central American and Mexican migrants in a vehicle crash near
As U.S. officials and politicians almost uniformly advocate more of the same policies and practices that have led to the deaths, it is useful to recall First Lady Patricia Nixon’s words and deeds—that are almost unimaginable today—at the international divide 37 years ago this month.
Mrs. Nixon was in
In her speech, the First Lady promised to cross the boundary to shake hands with some of the hundreds of Mexican nationals witnessing her visit. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, she declared, "I hate to see a fence anywhere."
After a member of her security detail cut a section of the then barbed-wire barrier, she traversed the divide and embraced Mexican children, stating, "I hope there won’t be a fence here too long."
There were no criticisms of Pat Nixon’s statements and actions—at least as indicated by press coverage.
The appearance of what many locals used to call
The southern limit of what is officially known as
Her husband, ironically, had a hand in bringing about the changes: Richard Nixon’s administration helped to create the perception of a U.S.-Mexico border region dangerously out of control, and of an influx of unauthorized migrants threatening the country’s socio-economic fabric. Subsequent administrations funneled ever-more resources into policing migrants and the boundary. It was during the
Since 1994, the size of the Border Patrol has quadrupled, while the number of migrant detentions, deportations, and workplace raids has skyrocketed. With Barack Obama and John McCain both championing an ever-elusive border "security," there is little reason to hope for a de-escalation.
These developments over the last four decades have come at an extremely high financial and human cost: billions of dollars, thousands of deaths, and countless divided families. Meanwhile, though the boundary is now certainly more difficult to cross, most unauthorized Mexican migrants who try eventually succeed—92 to 97 percent of them, according to a recent study carried out by researchers at the University of California, San Diego.
While it is impossible to know exactly what Pat Nixon intended almost 40 years ago in
Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at