Border Report: Artists Hold onto Murals as Fence Construction Begins - Voice of San Diego

News UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Border Report: Artists Hold onto Murals as Fence Construction Begins

The Supreme Court says detained immigrants aren't entitled to bond hearings every six months, a craft brewery in Tijuana is using proceeds to help returning migrants and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.
U.S.-Mexico border
Thomas Gin started Calle 13, an arts collective, to help improve the neighborhood of Santa Clara along the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Mexicali. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The construction of a new fence that will stretch roughly two miles along the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico got started last week, despite a legal objection. California and several environmental groups challenged the Trump administration’s effort to expedite the building process by waiving environmental regulations, and a federal judge ruled the border wall could move forward.

An attorney for one of the plaintiffs, the Center for Biological Diversity, told KPBS that his clients plan to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Trump responded on Twitter by saying he would punish California by not building the wall here. It was a strange statement to make, considering only a day earlier the state had lost a court challenge trying to halt construction.

What’s happening now in Calexico is different than the “big, beautiful wall” Trump keeps talking about. Customs and Border Patrol emphasized to The Desert Sun last week that the $18-million project — a tall metal barrier — has been a long-planned tactical, infrastructure project. Border Patrol identified the improvement back in 2009 and its funding was allocated last year.

I went to Mexicali over the weekend to talk to an artist collective, Calle 13, about the fence project. The collective was started by Thomas Gin, who was born and raised in the neighborhood of Santa Clara, along the border fence.

Gin said he remembers a Santa Clara very different than the one today. The fence took an environmental toll on the community, clearing vast amounts of trees. The neighborhood became hotter without the shade and as the sun reflected off the fence and wildlife, ranging from coyotes to butterflies, began to disappear, he said.

“The neighborhood was looking ugly,” Gin said.

Gin started Calle 13 several years ago to help improve the neighborhood — by fixing streets, creating parks and using art to beautify the surroundings.

But then two years ago, he and other artists realized they had a giant canvas at their disposal — the border fence.

The first mural painted on the fence was done by artist and street calligrapher Said Dokins. “El Orden Se Derrumba,” or “The Order Collapses,” is scrawled across the fence where Mexicali’s Calle 13, or 13th Street, intersects with the U.S.-Mexico border.

At first, Gin said, Border Patrol and Mexican authorities were suspicious that the artists were trying to jump the fence, but then let them be.

In the past two years, the collective has hosted artists from across the world, including local ones, to paint 35 murals along the fence. Now that the fence is going to be replaced, they want to see if they can save five of the murals that are particularly meaningful to the community.

“Our mission wasn’t to paint the fence,” Gin said. “It was to clean up the community. But the fence opened new opportunities for us.”

The fence brought international attention to the group. Colleges such as UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California started sending students to become artists in residence. Gin and other artists were invited to do works of art in other places. Gin said they are reinvesting those resources in the neighborhood, with projects like park beautification and tree-planting at schools for kids.

“When we go present at universities, people always ask, ‘What’s it like to paint the border fence?’” Gin said. “I always tell them to come and try it for themselves. It’s something I can’t explain, but when you’re there on the ladder, you feel it.”

The paintings that Calle 13 is trying to keep include Dokins’ work, a serpent painted by artist Eustolio Pardo, a portrait of leading Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata and a painting of the Mexican flag with a warrior in the middle.

Murals Along the U.S.-Mexico Border in Mexicali

U.S.-Mexico border
A serpent painted by artist Eustolio Pardo. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
U.S.-Mexico border
A portrait of Emiliano Zapata, leading figure in the Mexican revolution. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
U.S.-Mexico border
A painting of the Mexican flag with a warrior in the middle. /Photo by Adriana Heldiz
U.S.-Mexico border
“El Orden Se Derrumba” or “The Order Collapses.”/ Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Calle 13 isn’t the only group trying to hold on to parts of the old border fence.

In 1998, the Calexico Arts Council commissioned a mural along the barrier, a series of geometric figures with a central orb that depict a kind of “friendship bracelet” used by the Olmec people — one of Mexico’s oldest civilizations.

The government of Calexico will keep some of those painted sections of the old fence in a local museum once they come down, the Union-Tribune reports.

Gin said he has written and called Border Patrol without response and is drafting a letter to the company that has the contract for the border fence.

The Associated Press dug into the construction firm that was awarded the contract for the Calexico project. They found the firm has been sued repeatedly for failing to pay subcontractors and was accused of shady billing practices in a 2016 government audit.

Trump is coming to San Diego to check out the prototypes for his border wall, reports Politico. In Sunday’s Politics Reports, VOSD’s Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts tried to figure out which local politicians would welcome him.

Detention Practices in Court

Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a ruling that required those immigrants detained while in court proceedings to have periodic bond hearings.

As the Union-Tribune’s Kate Morrissey explains, the prior ruling found that those going through immigration court proceedings were entitled to bond hearings after six months in detention and once again six months after that. The federal government had to demonstrate that the person was either a danger to society or unlikely to show up in court for their immigration hearing to keep them detained.

This ruling, Morrissey writes, will likely further increase the number of people detained. The detention facilities in the San Diego area are already full. It’s caused a backlog for asylum seekers at San Diego’s ports of entry, Morrissey reported in December.

As we’ve reported, the immigration detention facility in Otay Mesa is pretty much at capacity, the only one in California that still has the ability to expand, which it plans to do. The facility will add 572 detainee beds this year and has the capacity for nearly 1,000 more, which could be used by ICE or the U.S. Marshals, depending on the need.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in San Diego’s federal court last week, alleging immigration officials had unnecessarily and unjustly separated an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo from her six-year-old daughter. (Union-Tribune)

More Border News

Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego have filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. International Boundaries and Water Commission over sewage, toxic waste and pollution in the Tijuana River Valley. (NBC7)

Cervecería Insurgente, a craft brewery in Tijuana, has started producing a “Cerveza Migrante.” Proceeds from the new beer will go towards helping returned migrants and those deported from the U.S. (Telemundo20)

For all of Tijuana, there are less than 15 ambulances to respond to emergency calls. (El Sol de Tijuana)

A Mexican man living in Tijuana assumed the identity of an American and stole $631,000 in government benefits. (Union-Tribune)

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